Sunday, February 21, 2016

Flint Firestorm

Discussing hot button issues is not the path that I generally choose to follow largely because these topics are debated at nauseum with a million different opinions streaming across the World Wide Web. I try to differentiate myself whilst examining stories and thoughts that don't get the required attention needed, ie my thoughts towards why Yovani Gallardo's off-season value is being overlooked etc etc. This Ontario Hockey League fiasco involving the Flint Firebirds, while already having been picked up by national media outlets is fascinating enough that  I will attempt to eloquently maneuver through the evolution of events from the beginning of this whirlwind on November 8th,2015 to the present where the Firebirds have recently resurfaced.

To follow a sequential chain of events, before the aforementioned,  for the lack of a better word we'll consider a gongshow that transpired on the eighth of November when the relocated Firebirds, previously residing in Plymouth were pitted against the defending Memorial Cup Champions Oshawa Generals. Flint going into the season was projected as a fringe playoff team at best, a likely non playoff entity as what usually happens when assessing a re-located team is they favour a reboot, aim to get younger to allow not only the young nucleus to grow and bond together but to allow the fresh, unopinionated fan base to grow the with the team as well and ideally watch them transition into a contender. The tampered expectations for this Firebird squad came to fruition as a slow start marred the opening 1/4 of the season so as you can surmise, heading into this game against Oshawa, a team mind you that was converting their own version of a rebuild after a glorious 2014/2015 campaign which saw them reach the pinnacle was still the overwhelming favourite in the game. A slow start hampered the Firebirds finding themselves sulking through a 3-1 detriment, but the upmost resilience was shown and perseverance found, they tied the game and what has become crap shoot, pond hockey three on three overtime across all leagues, the Firebirds sealed the deal  scoring the overtime winner. Without recollecting any fond memories of the highlights, the fact is that the result is a very inconsequential side bar to more developing events that in retrospect would shake the climate of junior hockey.

In hockey, in sport, winning is usually followed by jubilation and celebration, positive vibes all around. Owner Rolf Nilson had different intents that evening as simmering discontent pertaining to the relationship between himself and the coaching staff was festering with the most glaring disagreement involving the lack of ice time his son(having a son on the team is a guaranteed recipe for success, right?) Hakon was receiving. After a win amidst the celebratory attitude that surely was present in the locker room, the abrupt and controversial rash decision was formulated, Nilson fired the coaches. Head Coach John Gruden(not the Hall of Fame Football Coach) and Associate, former Anaheim Mighty Duck and Regina native Dave Karpa were immediately no longer affiliated with the organization. Jubilation quickly translated to anger and a firestorm was about to ensue in Firebird county.

It should be noted that although young, the Firebirds were privy to marquee players including Alex Nedeljkovic, who was the starting goaltender for the American entry at this past winter's World Junior Hockey Championship and Josh Wesley,a Carolina Hurricanes prospect more notably known for being Hurricane great defenceman Glen's son are fully fledged National Hockey League prospects and those two, reportedly entrenched in the Flint leadership group led an exodus in a revolt against Nilson's decision and initiated a player strike and as a team would voluntarily skip practice the following day and drop their jerseys in front of the owner's office that is a made for the movies type of event. The revolt was in order and now the ball was in the Ontario Hockey League's court on how they were going to proceed and rectify this tomfoolery that ownership had created.

The following day, or quite possibly the day after, irrelevant to the point at hand after summoning an urgent investigation, it was determined that Nilson acted hastefully and in a way to appease the players, coach Gruden and Karpa were re-instated. With the popular decision amongst the players to haul back in the coaches, and for those who aren't aware a coach like John Gruden brings with him a substantial pedigree as he's worked extensively with the U.S National Team Development program, so this wasn't any Joe Schmo off the street. I maintain, and my opinion only that the fact that Gruden is only working in Major Jnnior when taking into account his reputable resume, he's selling himself short by not coaching professionally somewhere, the players agreed to end the very brief strike, if you even want to call it that and them along with their old coach, came back to work. As part of the findings of the investigaton, CHL commissioner David Branch reached a settlement between Gruden/Karpa and Nilson that required that the two coaches in question were rewarded with three year extensions. If you continue reading on, the contractually solidified coaches was just smoke and mirrors as we soon learn that the unpopular owner beats to his own drum.

After a couple months of inactivity, which during that time Flint was suffering, not just through the water crisis but also through a fifteen game losing streak. The on ice product was becoming historically inept, and something had to change, but after the fifteenth consecutive loss, nothing did, business as usual continued on. Now here's where this much maligned story becomes a tad murky, in sport whether we're analying professional or amateur, and to focus on amateur because that's the premise of this article, two things are paramount, winning and development. The coaches based on past circumstance always looking behind their back can't do the developmental aspect any favours as how can you teach kids when you're in constant paranoia about your own job safety. The winning wasn't happening either particularly during the already specified fifteen game skid. If Nilson would've elected to change the hockey operation staff then he would've had justifiable reasoning, reasoning that commissioner Branch wouldn't construe as sketchy behaviour because the proof was in the pudding. Fast forward to the week of February 17th, the illadvised skid a thing of distant memory, Rolf Nilsen and the Firebirds found themselves in the news again for get this, the Norwegian born owner disobeyed the previously agreed upon guidelines and fired Gruden and Karpa again! It's ironic this team plays in Flint as isn't this something the Will Ferell lead Flint Tropics(Semi-Pro analogy) would've endeavoured into? Gruden and Karpa canned again, what o what would Dave Branch do?

From here, to my best understanding are the chain of events. Gruden and Karpa gone with no chance of re-entering the fold,  and I mean can you really blame them, Nilson then names a close friend of his Sergei Khairin(probably butchered the spelling) who although did play briefly for the Winnipeg Jets has no coaching experience to the research I've done and has been a long time car salesman in the floundering Michigan economy as interim coach. In an absolutely brilliant maneuver we now have a clueless hockey mind controlling kids who parents have entrusted this organization with to oversee their development in the ever important teenage years. Khairin is now the bench boss of the Firebirds, or is he? In comes to the rescue....again...sir David Branch, a name that I'm overstating repeatedly in this article as by now he's wondering how he ever signed off on this deal handing one of his babies to the incompetent Rolf Nilson.

After the news broke again pertaining to Gruden's second firing, Branch along with other entrusted members of the Board of Governors met in Flint to urgently attempt to rectify the situation as a game was to take place against the first place Erie Otters the following day. After a brief review meeting with some of the players and others pertinent to the dealings, the punishment from Branch was quickly administered, Nilson suspended indefinitely, the car salesman Khairin relieved of his premature interim tag, and the Ontario Hockey League instituting a new hockey operations regime for the remainder of the season.

So what next, and what can be done to disallow this type of comedy from happening again? I have a few suggestions on how to control meddling from those corruptly in power but first let's examine the direction the Firebirds could be headed.  After the 2014/2015 campaign, two franchises were in peril and relocation took place, the aforementioned Plymouth to Flint and the long serving Belleville Bulls were shipped over to Hamilton which was more surprising to me when accounting for the storied Belleville junior hockey history. From what I'm led to believe, and if I'm way off base I sincerely apologize although the longer you follow the blog, me being off base could be construed as a norm, is is that the Belleville ownership group didn't necessarily want to relocate, it was caused by infighting betweenst the city of Belleville and ownership over the need of a new arena. The city and provincial government refused to fund a new arena which was the last straw for those privy to negotiations, the home of Kent Austin they went.  Clearly Belleville wants a Ontario League franchise back, and can we for a minute celebrate how nice those Bull uniforms were, with the only great Val'dor Foreurs rivalling them in design. Can Belleville's Yardmen arena, opened in 1978 still be suitable for a Major Junior team. I don't see why not, the roof isn't leaking, the structure is still approved to host events and most importantly the fan base is a consistent bunch that would come in spades if they were once again granted a franchise. Relocating this franchise back to Belleville with no real good grasp on how such a move would geographically effect the divisional alignment is the most logical. The city has played host to some of the NHL's greats, including P.K Subban, Al "Mullet man" Iafrate,  and Marty McSorley and it's clinging to hope that this discontent in Flint are the pocket aces needed in bringing hockey back to this population of approximately 50,000. If going back to Belleville isn't something that interests the league of the city council, option number two is a troubling alternative, something that the league is sweating and that's folding the franchise. The issue at hand, and I'm sure reading this you'll ascertain asto why the OHL can't find another owner to keep the team in Flint, in a perfect world that sounds wonderful but when the current owner lays claim to also owning the hockey center in Flint, that all but cancels out this hypothetical scenario. Unless Nilson wants to save face with a franchise he's near ruined and if you're forming an opinion based off events taken place this season that seems to be out of character as respect for the league has been non-existent from his end. Folding is tough on all parties, it's a loss of jobs and in the world that we live in where finding employment is tenious at best, handing out pink slips to hard working, passionate individuals are meetings no one wants to administer. The city spent essentially all of early 2015 preparing themselves for a junior hockey franchise and all that prosperity seems to be short lived.

Mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph, the question I posed was if this is preventable? You better believe it is! A comment that was repeated on several facebook posts in regards to the statement issued and in perusing forms, the consensus delivered is leagues should restrict the owner and or General Manager from having family on the team to avoid nepotism. I recripocate these values as when assessing league intregity, we can't have preferential treatment creep into the locker room which exactly was the cause of this cluster to begin with. Rolf Nilson bought the team for one sole intent, not to finally fulfill a lifelong dream of owning a sports franchise but to pave a way to the Ontario Hockey League for his Junior B calibre son. Its' been reported that these issues were brought up during the interview process involving Gruden and when Branch was researching the legitimacy of the ownership bid. At the end of the day, the league has a sock on their mouth because blame Nilson all you want, it was their decision to hand them the franchise, they're the ones liable for all the transgressions committed. More complete due diligence is needed, an obvious thought but one the parties involved should've spent more time throughout the preliminary stages.

Flint Firebirds, or Flint Firestorm, either way the stay in Michigan will be cut short. Bring back the Tropics!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

BM's Notoriously Unreputable Annual Major League Baseball Prognostications:2016 Edition

I consider myself quite knowledgeable when it comes to dissecting most sports, I'm well read in most areas and can usually formulate opinions that hold their own and stand behind well reasoned arguments. Predictions however are a different animal for myself. I've prognosticated some doozies throughout the years most of which come back at me and nail me in the face quicker than a boomerang tossed in Australia. In 2015, my original World Series picks were the Chicago White Sox facing off against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The head is held high for how the Dodgers performed, wasn't a bold pick by any means but current Diamondback Zak Greinke and Clayton Kershaw solidified the dominance the Dodgers experienced but conversely, the White Sox who I THOUGHT(incorrectly of course) were a young, developmental team would be led by the nucleus of Chris Sale, who in fairness was a solid commodity for the ChiSox, Alexei Ramirez who flopped harder then Joe Blandisi did for the Devils the other night and is no longer a member of said organization because of it, and Jose Abreu who once again projects to be a building block for the 2016 season. The team under Robin Ventura never gelled but showed signs of improvement but clearly was nowhere near a post-season baseball entity. The off-season acquisitions of Brett Lawrie and 2015 All-Star Todd Frazier will help but as I've developed a clearer head, I won't be delusional enough to propel them into a playoff position this coming season again. Below will entail a quasi-comprehensive prediction list featuring division by division rankings, major award winners, miscellaneous predictions including quirky observations like the first manager to get fired. After the divisional rankings are complete, based off of how I have the standings playing out, I will complete my playoff bracket accordingly. Enjoy!


Numeric value beside team=seed in the playoffs
W=represents Wildcard

American League East:

1.Boston Red Sox(3)
2.New York Yankees
3.Baltimore Orioles
4.Toronto Blue Jays(sorry Jay fans, including myself)
5.Tampa Bay Rays

American League Central:

1.Cleveland Indians(1)
2.Kansas City Royals(W2)
3.Minnesota Twins
4.Chicago White Sox
5.Detroit Tigers

American League West:

1.Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels(2)
2.Seattle Mariners(W1)
3.Houston Astros
4.Texas Rangers
5.Oakland Athletics

National League East:

1.Washington Nationals(3)
2.New York Mets(W1)
3.Miami Marlins
4.Atlanta Braves
5.Philadelphia Phillies

National League Central:

1.St.Louis Cardinals(1)
2.Chicago Cubs(sorry Cubs fans, you didn't prove the Back to the Future prophecy)
3.Pittsburgh Pirates
4.Milwaukee Brewers
5.Cincinatti Reds

National League West:

1.Los Angeles Dodgers(2)
2.Arizona Diamondbacks(W2)
3.San Diego Padres
4.San Francisco Giants
5.Colorado Rockies(No Rock-tober this go around)


Wildcard Matchups

Kansas City over Seattle
Arizona over New York Mets

Divisional Series

Kansas City over Cleveland=five games
Boston over L.A Angels=four games

St.Louis over Arizona=five games
L.A Dodgers over Washington=five games

Championship Series:

Boston over Kansas City=six games

St.Louis over L.A Dodgers=seven games

World Series:

Boston over St.Louis=six games.

It's official, the Boston Red Sox will win( or apparently won't judging from my discredited track record) the 2016 World Series.

Individual and Miscellaneous

AL MVP:Robinson Cano(second baseman property of the Seattle Mariners)
NL MVP:Bryce Harper(outfielder property of the Washington Nationals)

AL Cy Young:Danny Salazar(Cleveland Indians)
NL Cy Young:Jacob DeGrom(New York Mets)

AL Rookie of the Year:Aaron Judge(New York Yankees)
NL Rookie of the Year:Corey Seager(Los Angeles Dodgers)

AL Manager of the Year:Terry Francona(Cleveland Indians)
NL Manager of the Year:Mike Matheny(St.Louis Cardinals)

First Manager Fired:John Gibbons(Toronto)

Home run title, combining both American and National League:Bryce Harper(Washington Nationals)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Gallardo we trust

Spring Training for America's pastime is right around the corner, in fact some Pitchers and Catchers have already begun to report to their organizational facility. The arrival of Spring Training usually coincides with the completion of the "Free Agency Frenzy", but one name particularly remains unsigned, and that is pitcher formerly property of the Texas Rangers, Yovani Gallardo. With my luck, and I'm led to believe that he and the Baltimore Orioles are well immersed deep into negotiations so after I spend a hearty amount of time sputtering my thoughts he'll probably have already signed with the O's but that's okay because theirs a bigger injustice at hand here, and that is what on earth has Gallardo done to be considered a "secondary"piece? I classify him as a secondary piece only because players who remain unsigned into February aren't usually, and I stress the word usually as there are sometimes exceptions labelled as top tier commodities Is Gallardo the exception to this rule, or is he a victim of respective Major League Baseball General Managers overlooking his true worth and forgetting what he truly is, and that's a certifiable ace on most Major League teams.  If you don't cosign the fact that Gallardo has this kind of potential then I'm forced to seriously question your baseball expertise but would appreciate if you took the time to  follow my reasoning and maybe, just maybe can change your opinion on this Fort Worth native who will instantly transition the Orioles to a contender.

I don't know about you, but my first experience viewing Yovani Gallardo was a positive one. He came onto the scene with the lowly Milwaukee Brewers in 2007 and for that reason I can sympathize with those who don't or can't differentiate the success of the pitcher weighed against the dysfunction of the team that he plays on which aside from a C.C Sabathia second half splurge, have been heaped in dysfunction the last decade and a half. Once known as a strike-out machine, having reached over two hundred K's in four consecutive seasons, he's now developed the repertoire of pitching to contact, excelling at maximizing comfortable ground ball outs. After construing what I just wrote, you may be surmising that I'm contradicting my plead for more respect but au contraire as to me what this signals is a sign of maturity and knowing his body. Sure, strike outs are down evidenced by only tallying one hundred and twenty one in 2015 while suiting up for the Texas Rangers but adaptability in professional sports is paramount and because he's turned the big 3 0 earlier this winter he and the potential suitors know that he'll become more and more of a finesse pitcher and live on location. Like in real estate, pitching is all about location, location, location. General Managers should look no further than the 2015 post-season where we bore witness to Kansas City Royals starter Edison Volquez have a tremendous October and how you ask? He hit his spots, the Edison Volquez of 2009 and 2015 manufactured wins in two completely different ways but at the end of the day it doesn't matter how it gets done, if the pitcher has that intestinal fortitude and can win in a business where only winning matters, you stick with him. I maintain Gallardo and Volquez will enter 2016 with similar projections, so if Dayton Moore(Royals General Manager) constructed a world champion with pitchers like Edison on staff, it's perplexing why more general managers weren't lining up to secure the services of Yovani.

In society, we're all guilty of mimicking the feats of yesteryear, and the Yovani Gallardo of 2015, particularly late in 2015 onwards to the playoffs was virtually unhittable. I know this first hand as living in Canada we're flooded with Blue Jay baseball and were enthralled in their magical playoff run which paved way for the infamous bat flip seventh inning moment in game five of the ALDS against Gallardo's Rangers. Jays fans have Rangers manager Brian Bannister to thank for  the ALCS advancement as he made the foolish decision, and I could've dedicated the entire entry to this, of starting lefty Cole Hamels in the fifth and deciding game.  The fact that he's a lefty should've stapled Hamels to the bench due to the Jays lineup raking on southpaws and secondarily to that in game one of the series Gallardo stymied the Jays home run heavy order. For myself personally, that whole lead-up to the fifth game I was certain it was setting up for a Gallardo-Stroman duel but Bannister left me for a fool in his, to reference the always popular hindsight, incorrect decision. Channeling this back to Gallardo's current free agency status I'm left to wonder whether that season defining snub ruined any further relationship with the Rangers. He's from Texas, as his native Fort Worth situates right outside Dallas so conveniently re-upping in Arlington could've appeased family stability. Facts are facts though, multiple insiders who I trust and are privy to the negotiations have narrowed this down to a one horse race as because of this, I'm going to analyze the impact Gallardo will have on the Orioles.

The Baltimore Orioles relied heavily on their offensive escapades a year ago, enlisting in a game plan that conjured up a similar recipe to how my beloved Blue Jays cooked up their own storm, but lacked one key ingredient:pitching. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez took unforeseen steps back. For Tillman, 13-6 and a 3.34 ERA in 2014 but complimented that successful campaign with a disastrous 11-11 mark, and trust me if it wasn't for the likes of Manny Machado and Chris Davis, we may start to drawing comparisons to the happy go lucky but ultimately unlucky Drew Hutchison with eleven wins being an impossibility. Much more will be needed out of Tillman especially with the off-season loss of Wei-Yen Chen who just like Lebron James has lifted his talents to South Beach. The acquisition of Gallardo provides the O's with a legitimate ace. Most pendants judging from the lack of reported love this off-season pertaining to the prospects of Yovani , will still have the pre-season polls negating the Orioles pitching prowess but I totally expect the ground ball seeking Texan to compile fifteen plus wins on what I believe will be a much improved club.

Looking for a fantasy sleeper? Looking for a Cy Young darkhorse? My support for Yovani may go overboard but trust me folks, join me in repeating "Gallardo we trust"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts Preview

After getting some decent feedback pertaining to my 2016 Saskatchewan Tankard preview, I've decided to endeavour into creating a preview for the upcoming Canadian women's Championship being hosted in Grande Prairie,Alberta.  I will follow similar guidelines by ranking teams from one through eleven and then creating a separate ranking featuring teams who have the unfortunate task of navigating through the relegation tournament. I hope you thoroughly enjoy and feedback is encouraged. Due to the tradition of ranking the curlers in descending order, I'll continue down this path.

11.Team Newfoundland and Labrador(Stacie Curtis) Stacie Curtis, formerly Devereaux, is known for having much success in  the junior ranks, having triumphed to a Canadian Junior title in 2007 has struggled to get her feet planted in the women's game. In a province that has been primarily dominated by Heather Strong, the loss of her sister Laura out west opened the door, perhaps permanently for Stacie to reign supreme and become the consistent representative of this dwindling curling province. I look at the roster that Stacie has compiled for this year's event and this particular thought has come to mind. In years past, Curtis had brought forth cagey veterans, some will surmise over the hill cagey veterans such as Heather Martin which take a toll on the sweeping limitations the team then has. Martin may of been a fantastic shooter back in 1991, but as a reminder we now live in 2016 and I give her kudos for organizing a foursome that won't lack in the sweeping department. They live on the rock which will naturally restricts her bonspiel possibilities and for that reason alone as sad as reality dictates, her winning one game will be viewed as an achievement.

Skip:Stacie Curtis
Third:Erin Porter
Second:Julie Devereaux
Lead:Carrie Vautour

10.Team New Brunswick(Sylvie Robichaud) One of my favourite game shows as a child was "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" and the citizens who reside in New Brunswick are asking themselves, "Where in the World is Andrea Crawford?" After a very brief stint that saw Andrea Crawford move to Alberta to play alongside Val Sweeting, Andrea for all purposes disappeared from the curling community leaving her third Rebecca Atkinson forced to fill the vacancy with former rival Sylvie Robichaud. It's been a successful partnership as this foursome has now won the last two New Brunswick championships. Normally, you wouldn't consider a 4-7 record as a commendable showing but the mark they set last year in Moose Jaw may be difficult to replicate. One game stands out and that was their draw sixteen upset over then Team Canada, 2014 Champion Rachel Homan. The way in which New Brunswick defeated Team Canada validates my belief that replicating that 4-7 record of a year ago may prove to be herculean. It wasn't so much a match where New Brunswick won, it was moreso an outing where our defending champs beat themselves, Jenn Hanna knows the feeling! I firmly believe this group has the talent to avoid relegation but anything more substantial would render this blogger speechless.

Skip:Sylvie Robichaud
Third:Rebecca Atkinson
Second:Marie Richard
Lead:Jane Boyle

9.Team Ontario(Jenn Hanna) As a general statement, a ninth place finish from an Ontario representative in any National Championship would be construed as extremely disappointing but this could very well be Jenn's ceiling in this event.  I watched both the semi-final where they edged Jacqueline Harrison and in the final where they pulled off the improbable upset over Rachel Homan at the Ontario Provincial Championships courtesy of Sportsnet. The fact that I had a front row seat in front of the tube I was able to form some pretty strong opinions and it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or I don't believe so anyway to ascertain that by no means is Jenn a deserving representative. Some questionable strategic decisions from both the aforementioned Harrison and Homan down the stretch paved the way for her national advancement. All that aside, she's the lucky one that has received the privilege of dawning the Black and Red colors in Grande Prairie, and that deserves recognition in itself. Prior to qualifying for this years National Championship, her previous claim to fame was falling victim to the "shot", the in off double by Manitoba's Jennifer Jones that led her to the teams first Scotties title. A Jones-Hanna rematch seems very unlikely. It's somewhat fitting that the Championship is being held at Revolution place as a societal revolution may be required to propel the Hanna rink into this years playoff. To put a more positive spin on this team, as I realize I've been quite negative thusfar and I'll admit  that team third Brit O'Neill is one to watch next week. A sharp shooter and a very strong sweeper has me wondering if this will be O'Neill's coming out party?

Skip:Jenn Hanna
Third:Brit O'Neill
Second:Steph Hanna
Lead:Karen Sagle

8.Team Quebec(Marie-France Larouche) When dissecting the landscape of the Quebecois curling scene, you tend to forget the amount of success Larouche was able to forge up in the early to mid 2000's, and even before that as a very accomplished junior curler in the late nineties. We've bore witness to diminishing numbers in the Quebec womens provincials, which conceivably should've favoured Larouche's yearly chances but has succumbed to Lauren Mann in recent years. Well....Larouche is back and better then ever right???? Not so fast, as although if you qualify for a Scotties out of Quebec you deserve mad props but I just don't know how much gas is in the tank this team has. Here's my opinion on Marie-France, the modern game has passed her by. Her penchant throughout the years has been her eloquent draw and touch game and while still important with the abilities of most to drastically manipulate rocks today, if you can't throw the high hard one accurately, something that's never been part of her repertoire,you're already behind the eight ball. The other minor issue I've taken over the years with Marie-France is her "unique" at the loss of a better word, strategical concepts. I've seen her in past Scotties skip herself into big enough messes that she gives the bi-daily messes Browns (former) quarterback Johnny Manziel finds himself in a run for his money in the mess department. She's a confident skip with the mindset that given any circumstance, she can draw the can to avoid disaster. Back in 2004, in a simpler game this holds validity but my fear for her is that the game has got too complicated for her to require the end saving draw after the end saving draw. Tough sledding for Team Quebec next week.

Skip:Marie-France Larouche
Third:Brenda Nicholls
Second:Annie Lemay
Lead:Julie Rainville

7.Team Northern Ontario(Krista McCarville)  Without question, the most difficult team to prognosticate at this years Scotties. I'm honestly unsure whether I've pegged this group too high or far too low. Krista took a substantiated leave from the game as other life priorities got in the way which no one will fault but questions do arise to whether or not the nucleus she's compiled can hang with Canada's top ladies teams. The answer to that question should be yes as she valiantly knocked off heavy favourite Tracy Fleury out of Northern Ontario. I just labelled Tracy Fleury as the "heavy favourite" but I think we, myself included have to assess truly how big of an underdog McCarvillle was in this provincial championship. Granted, a four team event essentially secured her spot in the final but this is also the same McCarville who back in late 2009, albeit with a different squad came soooo, sooo close to becoming our countries Olympic Representative. Cheryl Bernard gets all the accolades for her steady play that week in Edmonton leading onto Vancouver, but the script for which I'm following now could be totally different. What if she was the victor? Does she escape Annette Norberg and win Gold? Is the leave of absence kiboshed? Is she viewed as one of our countries better teams in 2016? All intriguing questions to be sure, and one's that will forever be pondered but as we live in the present, can McCarville regain the previous almost golden form and play the role of spoiler or maybe even Cinderella next week. Her competitors will quickly explain to me if the glass slipper fits.

Skip:Krista McCarville
Third:Kendra Lilly
Second:Ashley Sippala
Lead:Sarah Potts

6.Team Prince Edward Island(Suzanne Birt) Fact: Please forgive me for a Western Bias here, but if Suzanne Birt(formerly Gaudet) lived in Western Canada she'd be widely considered the best individual thrower in today's game. No one has ever questioned Suzanne's individual skills, well some may not feel as strongly as I do, but the team in front of her has always left more to be desired. Is it my own clouded perception or does it seem like a McPhee is on her team, leaves her team, is on, leaves, so on and so forth? Robyn Green is back alongside Suzanne which is partly why I've chosen to rank their chances higher than most.  Green is an excellent hitter, a trait that is representative of the entire Island foursome.  By now, opposition is aware the way you beat Suzanne is by engaging in a feel game as she has no qualms firing a rocket down the ice and letting the angles do the talking. Birt would comfortably play every game to a 2-1,3-2 score and probably be in the playoffs because of it . As evidenced by the #6 ranking, the expectation is that the Islanders will fall just short of the playoffs but them making a playoff appearance wouldn't surprise me. Suzanne once won a Lotto Atlantic windfall(forgive me if I'm butchering the lottery corporation organization's title) and as someone who is no stranger to winning the random lottery here and there, the odds may not be in the favour of Suzanne this time around.

Skip:Suzanne Birt
Third:Robyn Green
Second:Meaghan Hughes
Lead:Marie Christianson

5.Team Saskatchewan(Jolene Campbell)  The game of curling needs fresh blood. Watching the provincial final that pitted Campbell against Stefanie Lawton, my pre-game thoughts were, "Here we go again", as if to concede that a Lawton win was an inevitability. I'll be honest as much as I give credit to Jolene for the provincial title, very much like Ontario I can't help but feel that the sluggish play of Lawton contributed to the result. The host network TSN will be all over this team as Russ' daughter Ashley plays third and in all actuality they'll receive more attention then they deserve but don't take that as a slight as for me, and quite possibly I'm homering my home province but playoffs are completely realistic. If they don't get intimidated by the moment, they'll sooth by the naysayers, but channeling back to my original premise, will the inclusion of a Howard on the team lead to heightened attention, the kind that conceivably could effect on-ice performance? We shall see.

Skip:Jolene Campbell
Third:Ashley Howard
Second:Callan Hamon
Lead:Ashley Williamson

4.Team Nova Scotia(Jill Brothers) I'm a self admitted bit of a reality T.V junkie, so just imagine my fandom when back in 2009, the now extinct Score Television Network produced a sports reality show, in search of Canada's next sportscaster. Two of my extreme passions sandwiched into one, it instantaneously became my favourite show, my go to if you will. It was that show that the surname of Brothers rings hollow for myself. Paul Brothers, husband of Jillian was declared winner that very first season and I suppose it provided a level of inspiration to venture into sports a little more extensively and maybe one day be full fledged into the Sport Journalism industry. Useless factoids aside, Jill Brothers is a name that I can guarantee nobody else views as a playoff contender which surprises me because after all she is now the general of the former Heather Smith-Dacey rink,  a team that was a thorn on the side for all competitors in a couple Scotties Tournament of Hearts. I'll take this time as well to pat myself on the back as most in the curling community had pencilled in Mary-Anne Arsenault to be the bluenoser entry, but my gut said Brothers would surprise and I expect pleasantly stellar results for Jill and the ladies heading into the event.

Skip:Jill Brothers
Third:Sarah Murphy
Second:Blisse Joyce
Lead:Teri Udle

3.Team Manitoba(Kerri Einarson) A Jennifer Jones-less field aided their chances this playdown season and they certainly capitalized on a weaker Manitoba provincial. These four had a remarkable beginning to their curling season as they reigned victorious in the first ever Grand Slam tier two event taken place in Truro,Nova Scotia. As a side note, I'm puzzled why all Grand Slams don't have a tier two event but that's a discussion for another day. What impresses me most about Kerri is her stoic demeanor under intense pressure. Judging off of facial reactions, you'd have no idea if she was playing a provincial final or a run of the mill Wednesday Open league game which is a good tell tale sign for a skipper. Kevin Koe won in first trip to the Brier, no reason why Einarson can't accomplish the same feat in Grande Prairie.

Skip:Kerri Einarson
Third:Selena Kaatz
Second:Liz Fyfe
Lead:Kristin MacCuish

2.Team Alberta(Chelsea Carey) Three Manitoba teams in the Scotties? Just kidding as I'm not na├»ve enough to not understand that relocation in our sport is just the nature of the beast. They knocked off the all mighty Val Sweeting in the final so that in large part gives them all the ammunition to go out and win the title. This entire team sans team second Jocelyn Peterman has been to the dance before, Carey a bronze medallist in 2014, Amy Nixon has been to the "show" three times but is better known for her 2006 Olympic escapades, while lead Laine Peters won the 2012 Scotties title playing lead for the rumbustious Heather Nedohin. The second, although lacking experience in the women's game, skipped Alberta to the 2012 Canadian Junior title,  so she's got game.Peterman particularly, and I know I've already sung high praises for Ontario third Brit O'Neill earlier, in my books is trending to be the break-out star of this championship. Her successes as a skip don't go unnoticed and the wealth of youthful exuberance will be an overwhelming asset for the veteran Carey rink. Can they get past the legend Jennifer Jones? Would make for a compelling final.

Skip:Chelsea Carey
Third:Amy Nixon
Second:Jocelyn Peterman
Lead:Laine Peters

1.Team Canada(Jennifer Jones) This well oiled machine is revved up and ready to put a licking on the rest of the competition. The late iconic Sandra Schmirler in an interview given in between her 1998 Olympic Gold medal in Nagano and her tragic 2000 passing stated that after her Olympic heroics, her and the rest of her team got burned out and lost the drive to compete. This interview stood out for me, not only because what was said but who said it and the power of the words Sandra delivered. I've always wondered if a rink like Jones will get burned out and lose that drive because let's face it, they've reached and conquered the pinnacle of this great sport, what's left to give? I suffice to say that the Rachel Homan team is the most talented in our country but no one will ever question the fact that Jones is the most determined. The ferocious mentality she takes out with her onto the ice is unprecedented and is intimidating for fellow opposition. You could make the argument that this type of mental edge is good for at least a point per game. Some have implied this as an overall summarization  is a weaker field and while it could be better, Jones isn't guaranteed the title but if played well anything short of a final appearance will be an egregious disappointment,

Skip:Jennifer Jones
Third:Kaitlyn Lawes
Second:Jill Officer
Lead:Dawn Askin

Relegation Field(descending order)

4.Team Nunavut(Geneva Chislett) Without having any knowledge pertaining to the Chislett rink, I will direct my thoughts to the gratitude that for the first time we will be sending a Nunavut representative to both the Men's and Women's championship. They will play their three relegation games, all three of which will end in gruesomely embarrassing losses, but we can't diagnose the impact of having a Nunavut rink solely on wins and losses. Our sport desperately needs growth, something I've touched on a few times and one of the only ways to grow is increased participation. Look at the Toronto  Varsity Blues Canadian interuniversity men's football program. From 2003 through early 2008 the program suffered through forty nine consecutive losses. Did the team just quit and sulk? No, the program kept working and developing and finally brokethrough against the University of Waterloo. I thoroughly hope that the coaches and support system of the Nunavut rink has prepared them for the inevitable. The more games you get in, the more apt you'll become and just like in this year's past Canadian juniors where both genders representing Nunavut won a game for the first time, and that time, not sure when will come if the curlers dedicate themselves to the sport and put in the necessary practice.

Skip:Geneva Chislett
Third:Denise Hutchings
Second:Robyn Mackey
Lead:Jenine Bodner

3.Team Yukon(Nicole Baldwin) The only team in the field to my knowledge that's utilized the residency snafu which allows one import who doesn't otherwise live in your province/territory to play for your squad. That import happens to be Steph Jackson-Baier who hails from British Columbia. The surprise heading into the year was that the young and up and coming Sarah Koltun rink were taking a hiatus this season to focus on education. Nobody can fault young individuals such as the entire Koltun rink wanting to focus on school but what that did was open the door for someone like Baldwin. As obvious as it is that Nunavut will be finishing fourth in the relegation event, to me it's almost as obvious that these ladies will be finishing third. I wish them the best of luck and as only one member  from the Yukon four will grasp,1/4 of "Team Saskatchemewan"(Kelowna summer spiel reference) sends their best wishes as you endeavour on what surely will be a memorable few days in Grande Prairie.

Skip:Nicole Baldwin
Third:Steph Jackson-Baier
Second:Ladene Shaw
Lead:Rhonda Horte

2.Team Northwest Territories(Kerry Galusha) I was torn between who I should reward the number one seed in the relegation event, and by process of elimination you can figure who that was honour was given to*cough, B.C, cough*. Now I let the cat out of the bag that I have the Northwest Territories losing to the British Columbians  in the relegation final, let me explain why. When I assess the plight of the Galusha rink, I worry that the haunting memories of losing last year's relegation event may be too steep to overcome. The difference this year is they have  a fighting chance as the only reason Tracy Fleury and her Northern Ontario were there last year was due to a ridiculous technicality. Not to sound like a Debbie downer, but there selection of the coach is perplexing to me. It's clear that they didn't watch the Ontario provincial semi-final as if you read my Ontario thoughts earlier in this entry I spoke strongly that Jacqueline Harrison lost the semi-final more than Hanna won, well part of that was due to poor advice from "coach" John Epping. I respect the year John Epping is having on the Grand Slam circuit as his results can be deemed admirable but in his brief coaching history, at least from what I've witnessed has been suspect at best.

Skip:Kerry Galusha
Third:Megan Cormier
Second:Danielle Derry
Lead:Shona Barbour

1.Team British Columbia(Karla Thompson) I recall watching last year's provincials on Sportsnet and leaving petrified with the level of play I was witnessing. That final between Sarah Wark and Patti Knezevic was mind numbing, featuring missed shot after missed shot. It was of no surprise that Knezevic got her province relegated which right here and then is what makes the relegation system flawed, why should a team like Karla Thompson  be penalized due to Knezevic's shortcomings from 2015? The quick answer is they shouldn't and thank goodness relegation is going away in a couple years. As much as I was left with my jaw dropped, and not just dropped, I mean dropped needing some kind of medical procedure to correct the issue, conversely I was impressed with what I saw out of Karla and company. I know their was a lot of chatter on how they managed to overcome a seven point deficit in the 1 v 2 against Kelly Scott but to me that screams resiliency.  What I also took away from the final where they again faced off against Scott is they're all excellent hitters. Once a lead was built, it was abundantly clear a trip to Grande Prairie was in the rearview mirror. As a clarification, I expect this team to win the relegation and after further thought will slide them between the rankings of Robichaud and Hanna.

Skip:Karla Thompson
Third:Kristen Reckseidler
Second:Tracey Lavery
Lead:Trysta Vandale

Well, there it is folks. I hope you enjoyed reading this opinion piece and like mentioned in the top, feedback is encouraged.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Canadian Celebration

There are very few celebrations in Canadian sport that in 2016 remain uniquely and unequivocally  Canadian. The Grey Cup is the event that stand outs for most Canadians as the Canadian Football League, league in which awards the Grey Cup, has had a prestigious history, you grow up in Canada and surely you have some affiliation or story pertaining to the yearly event. After watching bits and pieces from the National Basketball Association which claiming that I watched a semblance of a game I generally consider unbearable is a remarkable feat, but back to my tangent, from watching the game tonight I took issue with the entertainment in the lead up to the game and further yet the anthems. Now you're asking yourself, what's the tie in to the Grey Cup? The tie in, and the reason I brought the Grey Cup into the equation is because their's a bigger cultural and societal faux pas that us  Canadians seem to wrongfully accept and that is not celebrating sustainable, billboard material talent in our home grown sporting events.

The 2016 NBA All-star game is being hosted in Toronto, Ontario. The principle of an all-star event such as this is to market and celebrate the& great basketball players of this era, which the Association did and have always done a masterful job of doing. The heroes in the basketball community, such as Lebron James, Klay Thompson and fellow splash brother Steph Curry who has some ties to the greater Toronto area got out in the community, connected with the local media and embraced the event for what it is, a showcase to the wonderful fans. The basketball players undoubtedly fulfilled their end of the bargain but the question in peril is did the organizing committee fulfill theirs?

I'm going to construct an argument that goes for all Canadian sporting showcases, such as the aforementioned Grey Cup but will use specific examples from this weekend's All-star game to make my case, and that is why do we restrict ourselves primarily to Canadian acts at the expense of luring in global acts that are more deserving of the moment? The  Canadian national anthem tonight sung by Nelly Furtado has got a lot of flack as I've perused through twitter, some even drawing hilarious comparisons to the infamous 'O Christmas Tree' melody based rendition in a Las Vegas CFL game back in the early nineties. The rendition although quirky isn't drawing my wrath so much as why out of all possible acts was Furtado granted with such a humbling honour? Was this the 1996 All-star game or 2016 because the height of Furtado's stardom happened then and it's been all downhill since. This game was brought to Toronto by Tim, the former President of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, a conglomerate that brings in a wealth  of finances along with the duel effort of telecommunications networks Bell and Rogers with the assumed financial assistance of the league itself, and all the league could muster up was Furtado? That's a joke and all parties should be embarrassed. Sting for the half-time show? I'm not convinced Sting in 2016 is substantial enough headline material for a local Elementary school talent showcase, let alone a professional sporting all-star extravaganza. Over exaggeration, sure but the implied point remains and that is in a sport where revenue is endless, give the fans something they enjoy.  As a disclaimer, I will admit that the timing may not have been ideal as the Grammys take place tomorrow(Monday the 15th) but nonetheless the expectation is to secure top acts with long advancement notice.

The all-star game is a yearly one-off, an event that only came to Toronto for the first time this year, so the hope is they will learn from their mistakes and up their entertainment game when the city of Toronto is fortunate enough to host this event again but I feel the need to discuss the misnomer that most Canadians have and that is just because you host an event does NOT mean you need to have a Canadian headliner. The Grey Cup is guilty ever as recent headliners have as a general rule been Canadian citizens. The necessity of this could be fiercely debated but my opinion is that you bring over the best act possible, Canadian,American, Swedish, Dutch, Chinese etc etc...bottom line is it doesn't matter. It's factual that a lot of Americans view the Canadian Football League as Pop warner, jokish football but we must examine why. Crummy football? The football admittedly isn't top calibre but the uniqueness of our game conceivably should draw fans in. I have a different thought on why Americans have the sometimes correct opinion pertaining to our league and it draws a parallel to the thesis of the article, and that's  how we brand our showcase event, the Grey Cup. When audiences tune in to the night, particularly those who won't give a flying patootie about the league from June-November and see the likes of Imagine Dragons, Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Bieber and Hedley, what thoughts filter in their head? As the old adage goes, "just get them through the door and they will stay" aptly applies to my logic here as in television terms, attract a Bruno Mars to play your half time show and the non CFL supporter may stay tuned in and learn our Canadian game. 

The Super Bowl doesn't restrict itself to American propaganda, The World Cup of Soccer doesn't restrict it's entertainment to that of the particular hosting nationality, what did us Canadians do to have such strict ground rules when celebrating what should be a great day in Canada? The answer, nothing at all.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A National Championship of sorts

If we harken back to the 70's and 80's, which is long before my time, and watch some highlight videos of past Canadian Men and Women curling championships, the few that exist online anyway, you'll easily ascertain that the curlers during that tenure played in front of  packed, some would say rowdy venues. One video that stands out for essentially all curling enthusiasts is the 1985 Labatt Brier to where which Northern Ontario's Al Hackner made a cross ring double to defeat Alberta's Pat Ryan in the old Moncton Coliseum.  It was certainly an iconic moment, but why? The shot, like all curling fans would agree is held in great prestige due to the magnitude of the moment, but let's also as fans of sport dig a little deeper on what makes the Iceman's shot so memorable. Taking nothing away from the skill that it took to pull of the Brier clinching shot, but let's face it, in the modern day of curling we see that type of shot on a game to game basis. Is it possible, eluding back to my original hypothesis, that the reason the shot holds such fan fare was how the players, and more importantly the fans embraced the moment?  In a compact facility that was the Moncton Coliseum, an eruption ensued, something that is unforeseen is National Championships today. The fans acted as if Paul McCartney of the Beatles just took the stage for the encore performance. Full credit goes out to Hackner for embracing the moment and running with, a small part why you ask most people with a remedial understanding of the sport and ask them to name a few curlers, the name Al Hackner will surely be brought to the forefront.  National Championships have become stagnant throughout the years, through no fault of the curlers though because the calibre of play has substantially improved, which pendants will argue has hurt our sport while others will say it's helped but nonetheless speaking from a purely historical perspective because as I mentioned I wasn't around to witness a live curling event in the 70's and 80's, the atmosphere has changed, you go to a curling event and I know certain groups are trying to change this, but we've slightly lost that entertainment edge How to get it back...keep reading and I've conjured up an interesting proposition that at worst will make some great food for thought.

The Scotties gets played in Montreal, albeit in a smaller center which I thought was a brilliant idea, allowing the long time fans to reminisce what it was like at Brier and Scotties back in the hay day, reverting back to my previous example of the Moncton Coliseum. The Brier is being played in Ottawa this year. Big markets=electric atmospheres? Not so fast. Montreal has the Canadiens which will always be the voice of the city, whether playing at home or the road, and Ottawa has the Senators and that will make the Brier back page paper conversation. The game of curling needs to locate newer, more passionate fans, and as unconventional as they may sound, and goes against every principle a National Championship stands for, but is it time for this to grow into a global event, and judging from what was  a massively successful, Las Vegas hosted Contenental Cup, Vegas baby? In what was meaningless curling, the crowd was engaged and I can guarantee that was incentive enough for curlers to want to play. Like any good athlete will vocalize, the more boisterous the crowd, the easier it is to get the adrenalin flowing. Is Vegas a viable option for a  National Championship, the upper hierarchy at Curling Canada will vehemently say no but let's explore and I'm sure by the end I'll have you all believing this is  a superb idea. Okay, I probably won't but I'd appreciate if you keep reading.....

The climate of Las Vegas has transitioned in recent years. A touristy destination by nature, however the reason I'm suggesting the climate has changed from an interest perspective is because  I'm under the premise that Nevadans are open to trying out new things, ie the recent continental cups compounded with their recent desperation to land a National Hockey League franchise. Ten to fifteen years ago hockey in Vegas would've been an absurd, laughed at idea. Have a hard time believing what I'm selling, if in doubt just check in with Sportsnet and the Fan 590's, Bob McCown, about as pessimistic as a person as they come, he's been skeptical pertaining to the plausibility of hockey in Vegas to this day and this is coming from a long time resident of Vegas but even he I think would be in agreement that citizens of Las Vegas could get behind watching the BEST curlers in the world . I can only imagine the snarky remarks he'd gesture my way if I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with him about hosting a curling National Championship in his former home city. I think in society generally speaking, we're more open to trying new things, so based on that observation what is stopping Curling Canada in even giving this a one year attempt to avoid the stagnancy recent championships have become? Revenue? Understood but I firmly believe the amount of Canadians who would be enticed by the idea of booking a week off to head to Vegas to watch curling(gamble and golf as well but you get the idea) would alleviate the valid concern that you lose your loyal,local fan base.When taking into account the amount of our native land that would travel down along with Americans who I maintain would have a large sense of intrigue, it would certainly offset increased travel costs.

On behalf of Curling Canada, I've looked after the fans, they'll come in flocks, need not worry. The last concern in this marvelous proposition is would the players get behind it? Too gimmicky? Takes away from winning a national title on home soil? Lack of general recognisability? All valid concerns sure, but any curler who may feel the idea of playing in Vegas puts this game in a poor light is in my books someone who isn't wholeheartedly getting behind the fact that we MUST find a way to grow our sport. The National Football League, a league that only boasts American franchises in recent years has held regular season games in London, England and Toronto with one purpose, to grow the game. This is an outstanding comparable because in the U.K, even the most well read fan will have no idea who Miami Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake is,newsflash people.....the only way the U.K will ever know who Wake is and how he plays is by watching them. Las Vegas will have no idea who Northwest Territories skipper Jamie Koe....actually allow me to take that back as if the stories I read are correct about his, shall we say eccentric partying ways, I'm sure he's blazed through the Vegas strip once or twice. Back to a more serious note, you understand the comparison I'm trying to make, no one in Vegas/America will know who these curlers are unless they're exposed to them. Curling Canada may be under the opinion that the forefront their main focus has to be grow the game in Canada, particularly at a junior level but by exposing our best to lesser known curling parts, the long term benefits will exceed the maybe more immediate, cost related negatives.

Crazy idea, maybe, maybe not, but this blogger is ready to see our game take a leap of faith, and what better way then for our curlers to leap onto the blackjack table, err I mean American ice.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Phil Jackson:Basketball guru?

The New York Knicks made headlines today when it was announced that they have elected to part with Head Coach Derek Fisher. The news was handed down from Team President Phil "The Thrill" Jackson, who interestingly enough coached Fisher when Fisher was the head floor general for the late ninety/early two thousand dynasty Los Angeles Lakers. Fisher earned almost constant praise who handed down Fisher a plethora of accolades pertaining to his on-court leadership ability. The thought was, and not just from Jackson that this would translate Derek into becoming an excellent Head Coach someday in the  Association, and it very well may but that day unfortunately for basketball fans of New York did not take place which left Phil with no other choice but to fire his former pupil and allowing Kurt Rambis to take over on an interim basis.

The reason I brought this discussion point up tonight is not because a coach got fired, as this has become common place, some say too frequent in professional sports but to analyze the worth of Jackson and bring into question whether or not Jackson's reputation of being one of the greatest ever is deserved or whether he's been dragged along throughout the years by the likes of Jordan, Pippen, Kobe, and Shaq.  Interesting discussion to be sure, and I tend to slide in the former ledger.

Jackson, who made his professional debut in 1987 as an assistant of the Chicago Bulls, was quickly promoted to head bench boss a little less than two years later, in many individuals eyes won the coaching lottery. How can that statement not ring true when coming to the full realization that he was graced with a young Michael Jordan, a poor man's Steph Curry in Scottie Pippen, one of the original bad boys but yet ferocious rebounder in Dennis Rodman and then overlooked complimentary pieces such as Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and long time Orlando Magic Horace Grant. The team was deep and quite frankly a lot of coaches could've stepped into the same situation and equated the same level of success. Some(most) will view the aforementioned remark as an egregious statement but I hold true to my beliefs. In hockey, was it due to Dan Bylsma that the Pittsburgh Penguins delivered a Stanley Cup in 2009? No one in their right mind would cosign that it was Bylsma that was the missing link, the team was going to win eventually when you have at the time the best player on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Coaches that exceed expectations are held highly in the world of this blogger but I maintain quite strongly that a coach that wins when it's expected to win, and when anything less is considered a monumental failure relies on pre-existing factors and his or hers coaching abilities don't deserve the recognition they receive.

If the assumption that I don't hold Jackson's successes highly wasn't obvious enough already, I'll try to further continue on this tangent. In society, referring to somebody as a "whore" is rightfully viewed as derogatory but I hope no offence is taken when I label Phil as a "Championship whore". He leaves the Bulls in 1998, conspicuously when Jordan's career begins to fade down and hops on over to Southern California to coach the Lakers.  This is a Lakers team that was able to lure Shaquille O'Neal over, partly to fulfill his Hollywood aspirations, I mean really who can forget Kazaam?? They also were able to acquire some young Philadelphia hot shot...what's his name again....o right, Kobe Bryant! Not a bad nucleus to begin his Lakers endeavour with.  In Chicago, he received a pioneer rep for instituting the Triangle offence, something that was carried forward into Los Angeles. This triangle offence is perhaps my biggest bone of contention when it comes to dissecting Jackson's worth. Simply put, great players make a great offence and Jackson could've implemented the most complicated, research tested and failed methods and it wouldn't of mattered. When you hand the ball to Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, it doesn't matter what the play call is, they'll score. The Raptors from ten years ago know this all too well(eighty one point flashbacks).  The triangle offence is a fancy way of describing get the ball into the best player. I would've loved to see Jackson attempt this offense with the likes of Mugsy Bogues, Andrea Bargnani and Popeye Jones? I'm going to assume his egotistical line of thinking will claim it would've meant multiple championships, but as I eluded to earlier he would've never considered coaching anywhere else as for him it was championship or bust.

The current plight of the New York Knicks is a tricky one and if anything it should verify what I've been preaching this entre entry. The New York Knicks don't have the necessary talent and sure enough the great Phil Jackson, the man overseeing this enterprise is left with his tongue out not knowing what the next move should be. Even though Porzingis, the young European they picked up at the 2015 draft projects to be a  nice player and Carmelo is good for 25-30 a night, that's about in the New York cupboard. This is my opinion, I think by Phil landing in New York he presumed that more household names would follow and for his sake unfortunately didn't happen.  Phil was out of options and his strategical maneuvers reek desperation as he went so far to aleniate a relationship in Derek Fisher to try something to right this broken ship.

It may not happen this year, probably not next year and not likely even the year after but at some point, those impatient New Yorkers will soon have enough and Jackson will find himself in the hot seat and will then look for the next destination that can guarantee championship. For Phil's overrated basketball mind, he better go somewhere that has actual talent, hello Golden State? I can hear the cringing from Golden State fans all the way from Regina at the slightest thought of that notion.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Louisville slugged out

Having been to Louisville,Kentucky in 2012 for the first two rounds of the NCAA Basketball tournament, better known to most as March Madness, I grew a fond attachment to the Cardinals athletic program, having been a fan ever since. The men's basketball program particularly has been a staple in the state of Kentucky as the program rose to prominence from being an afterthought in the early nineties to a Rick Pitino led men's powerhouse culminating in a National Championship in 2013.

On February 5th, a dark day, perhaps the darkest day took place in the program's history. A self imposed tournament ban was issued on behalf of the institution. For what you ask, a pre-emptive strike at the expense of a recruiting issue the NCAA is currently investigating. So that's right, to clarify, the school is punishing the players, the kids who have dreamt their entire lives of participating in March Madness due to a mistake or oversight, however you want to slice it, that the athletical department made in attempts to recruit the nations best. How is this justifiable? It's not, it's a travesty and repercussions and pre agreed upon penalties when facing these types of situations need to be arranged so this never happens again.

If an employee steals money from his or her's organization, does head office clamp down and fire it's entire staff? Heck no, they punish the individual who committed the crime. I respect the fact that the University of Louisville is cooperating with the investigation at hand but the way they're admitting or accepting responsibility I view as contradictory. A violation of recruitment rules was clearly present here judging from the school's self imposed penalties they have issued but I question the legitimacy of their internal investigation. An individual(s) are at fault for the mess that's been created, why has the investigation from the NCAA or L'Ville(one of many ways Kentuckians pronounce the great city) not focused on the few that are responsible and discipline those appropriately? By banning the players, the innocent bystanders if you will, all that has been accomplished is that it's been made abundantly clear that the University doesn't care about their students, and as a cop-out at the risk of opening a can of worms that they want to keep secret from the powers at be will sacrifice the good fortunes and entertainment to their student body to save the institutions belittling reputation.

Now, I'll take this a step further and correlate my frustrations with this into something that revolved around a much more sensitive matter that played out at Penn St University regarding the Joe Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Despicable act, not condoning actions of anyone involved here, but similar to Louisville, the Nittany Lions received  a post-season ban as a penalty for the university's lack  of eptness in how they handled this unbearable longevic, disgusting behavior. A post-season ban for the players in this scenario aswell? The players should've been aided, not punished. I'm not going to spend time parlaying my thoughts how decisions like this put the abused in a more vulnerable life decline because kids knowing the possible price that their OWN friends and OWN school may have to pay will scare them into speaking the truth. This cycle is damaging and needs to stop, and a better hierarchy in handling these kind of sensitive matters needs to be developed because in 2016, particularly with abuse, this should NEVER be tolerated and each individual on this earth must have the confidence to speak up and stop it before it happens to someone else.

Ok, I realize I went a tad off topic with that latest tangent but I feel strongly about that and it's up to the NCAA to alter it's principles. Now getting back to the topic at hand, this is what I would propose to rectify the lose-lose game that currently best describes the players point of view: If a university self imposes, or if the head body imposes any kind of ban on a school for a school violation, allow the players the following. Provide the option, if the player chooses to partake in a immediate transfer. I'm fully aware with the way rules are currently construed it states that a player that elects to transfer will be required to red shirt the following semester. Rules are rules, but provisions can be constituted and this should be one of those exception. A school infraction should translate into immediate transfer availability. Wrapping this back around to Louisville, it's disheartening that fifth year seniors Trey Lewis and Damion Lee won't have the life enriching opportunity of playing in the tournament. You play your whole collegiate athletic careers to reach this pinnacle especially when you have a team like the Cardinals who could've inflicted serious damage on the tournament,

NCAA, in the future, do the right thing. Look after your students!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tribulations of the Senators

The hot topic tonight once again, and deservingly so is the play of McJesus himself, Connor McDavid who led the Edmonton Oilers to a triumph over the Ottawa Senators by tallying two assists. He's a prodigy, an unquestionable assertion for a player that barring injuries will be the cornerstone of the Oilers franchise for the next fifteen years. The combination he possesses featuring hands of Pavel Datsyuk with the speed of a Mike Gartner, he's virtually an unstoppable force that will require # 1 defenceman to shadow his whereabouts. All that being said, and I could literally go on and on in my admiration towards Connor, what I want to talk about tonight is the (mis)fortunes of the team on the losing end, that being the Ottawa Senators.

As a Toronto Maple Leaf fan growing up in the mid to late nineties, I grew up with some classic Senators-Maple Leafs action, and the more thinking I do the most memorable matchups I bore witness to were the Patrick Lalime,Daniel Alfreddson, Wade Redden narrated Senators against the Mats Sundin, Alyn McCauley(had to give a plug to the thoroughbred checking center) and Tomas Kaberle led Leafs in consecutive playoff matchups. The Senators were always blessed with more talented rosters through and through but the kryptonite was the goaltending, usually Patrick Lalime particularly letting out the untimely goal, one goal sticks in my mind when in the opening period in a game seven, Joe Niewendyk let off a weak slap shot from the high hash that trickled through. This became a common occurrence and arguably hampered the Sens from tangible playoff successes around that time frame.

Goaltending was an issue then, but now as we sit through this 2015-2016 campaign, it's the least of their worries.  The tandem of Craig Anderson and the "Hamburgler" himself Andrew Hammond are definitely a capable duo but the lack of defensive depth the Sens display doesn't do the numbers of the aforementioned two any justice. A 2.95 GAA for Anderson, the preferred starter of late on behalf of Dave Cameron is nothing to cry home about, but if it wasn't for the defensive woes, could be soooooo much better. So this defensive crisis the Rideau Canal faces, the essence of my entry tonight, what needs to change? It's possible that we first must look at the Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson, the supposed anchor of this group. Karlsson gets a lot of praise from the Canadian media but from my vantage point not much of it is deserved.

So how many of you reading this conclude that Karlsson is a top five defenceman in the NHL? I respect you feel this way but hopefully after reading this tonight you'll be swayed in the correct direction, that he is not and in all reality is the precipus when delving into the shortcomings of the Senators. Let's first talk about his positional play, I play Ball Hockey and in Ball Hockey a rover can be quite useful as offence is the name of the game and backwards skating is not required. What position does Karlsson play? Defence? Could've fooled me. His defensive awareness is virtually non-existent and that was in full display in this evenings tilt against Edmonton. I appreciate he has a high skill level and has the coveted puck skills to be able to jump into the rush but this by all accounts doesn't dismiss the lapses in judgement that usually result a multitude of  odd man rushes the other way. I literally lost track tonight on how many odd man rushes the Oilers had. Grant you players such as Hall, Eberle, and McDavid will create scoring chances based off of pure skill, the honus is on Dave Cameron to knock some sense into the captain, remind him that although the offence is welcome, he's a defenceman first and foremost and taking care of his own end is paramount.  The "brainfarts" of Karlsson isn't the only thing causing mass panic for General Manager Bryan Murray and fans abound.  The dilemma on how to handle the Jared Cowen drama bas been much debated in and around Ottawa. Here's the issue regarding Cowen, yes he was a first round pick back in 2009(9th overall to be exact) but that doesn't make up for a severe fault in his game, a lack of footspeed. I've had this opinion about some other defenceman entering the ranks, such as Luke Schenn or Roman Polak, the game that once was is no longer and the  way all three of these gentlemen perform on the ice is no longer condusive to with the way game operates. Cowen has voiced displeasure for not playing often enough in Ottawa, does he have reason to be frustrated? 100% he does but we live in a winning business and the facts are Jared Cowen is an AHL calibre defenceman. Bryan Murray I can guarantee would love to honor his request but because he was such a high draft pick, can't afford to give him away.  If I was Jared Cowen's agent, I would advise my client that he should count his blessings, appreciate the fact that he is still up with the big club because it could be worse. There aren't many teams that would employ Jared Cowen in the show, simply put. Jared Cowen was once part of the more memorable Memorial Cup celebrations in which his Spokane Chiefs captain infamously dropped the cup after being awarded it. If they don't straighten out the mindset of Cowen and fix Karlssson's positional alignment I can assure you that their won't be any cups to drop for a long, long time Ottawa.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tankard thoughts(draw two)

In draw two of the 2016 Saskatchewan Tankard, I will be providing updates for the featured match this evening involving Kerrobert's Brad Heidt and Regina's Randy Bryden. Enjoy

End one

-Bryden lead Trent Knapp places the opening rock of the game top four, Brad elects to hit and it's open season for a classic first end blank.

-Interesting to see Brad himself only throw second stones this season, the confidence level he has in sons Mitch and Drew is apparent with that decision.

-One of those ends that smelt like a blank, looked like a blank, but resulted in a score of one in lieu of Drew Heidt sticking on his last.

End two

-Regis Neumeier with two perfect stones to begin the second whilst T.Knapp put up a workable corner and both skips appear ready to gamble.

-Kelly Knapp attempts a hit and roll on a Heidt stone landing fully in the eight foot, but fails to acquire the role.

-Roll out by Mitch Heidt has increased the chances of a second blank, although a corner does exist on the other side of the house.

-Great cross sheet role attempt by Troy Robinson and now the corner guard is definitely in play.

-Judging by Drew's snarky reaction, some sweeping miscommunication prevented their role attempt and now we'll see Randy try what Drew could not accomplish.

-Count me in as one who thought two experienced skips such as Brad and Randy would've encouraged more rocks in play but as it stands a second consecutive blank is staring us in the face but this time a blank is actually made successfully(forgive me for to quote the great Roger Clemens, "misremembering"that Heidt stole for one in the first)

End three

-Brad Heidt makes a pistol hit and roll to sit two behind in cover. Bryden now the chaser.

-The veteran Heidt drawing upon his experience, once again threw a beautiful hit and roll, rolling off a half tucked Knapp stone behind the guard.

-On Mitch Heidt's first,Heidt elects for the aggressive play ignoring the Bryden half open stone, deciding to draw around and sit two.

-After a Robinson roll-out, the petal to the metal approach continues for the Kerrobert bunch. Making Bryden work to earn their coin.

-Big trouble for Bryden after Robinson attempting a come around, wrecks on the guard. Heidt will look to guard their two shot stones.

-All this complaining of overly conservative play can be thrown out the window, rocks galore here in the third.

-The saving grace for Bryden is that the shot stones of Heidt are behind the tee line thus allowing Randy to tap his rock tight to the four for shot rock.

-Drew Heidt draws in far too deep trying to cut off Bryden's second point, and now Randy has a draw to the four for his second point. This is a classic skip deuce as the Heidt clan was all over Team Bryden before the the team's elder statesmen bailed the crew out. 2-1 Bryden.

End four

-After the lead Knapp undercurled on a draw attempt to the four foot, he more than made up for that with a pristine center guard and it has forced Heidt's to get in the runback/peel mode.

-Brad Heidt, using the same principles as last end, is ignoring the hitting game and on Mitch Heidt's first one,played a back eight tap back to ensure the Bryden rock stay in the rings behind the button. This gameplan is refreshing.

-With Bryden lying three all behind the tee, fourth thrower Drew will look to draw around the center guard and their own red top twelve. Brad was very clear in his thought process that by either fully burying the rock or keeping it half open, the jam presents itself for Randy.

-Drew  goes deep(common theme of the night), thus allowing Randy to draw right to the pin and the Heidt team is in a world of hurt.

-The Bryden draw was evidently too big of a hurdle for Heidt to jump as Bryden stretches his lead to two.

End five

-The prototypical beginning to any curling end, the team without hammer(Bryden) places two rocks on top of one another and Heidt places a corner guard.

-Brad Heidt rolls past the corner allowing Kelly and the Bryden rink to hit and stick and sit two
-At some point the Heidt four has to regain their composure, from my vantage point were outplaying Bryden in the first two ends but have begin to unravel providing a significant edge to the rink from the Callie.

-Heidt with a stone in the eight foot, half wrapped around the center with the Bryden stone back four, some contemplation was given to either throwing a high guard and staggering the red(Heidt) or coming right in. The guard was chosen after much debate.

-After Mitch delivered his stone, the Heidt's now have two promotable stones to access Bryden's back four marker. The more guard attempts now for Randy the hotter the fire he's playing with.

-Brad asking Drew for a  double run off nose to promote the reds in the rings to remove the yellow.

-The double run is made partially but they lose the one red they were hoping to keep around which interestingly enough isn't that good for Heidt as with a simple hit on the open red in the back of the eight foot, the force is in play. Can Drew make  a pressure draw? This remains to be seen as he;s been a little heavy on a few draws tonight.

-The entire way down it appeared to be a routine draw for Drew but an apparent pick slowed down the draw attempt and has led to ANOTHER steal for the Bryden foursome.

End six

-On Trent Knapp's opening stone, a rock originally pegged for the top four slides to the back twelve.

-Now reeling from a three point deficit, Neumeier has thrown up a second corner guard and then is a disastrous turn of events for Bryden, Kelly Knapp's peel attempt goes wayward and bumps the Heidt rock into the rings.

-The last couple of rocks from Heidt have been an effort to protect the rock Knapp chipped in, Robinson by virtue of the end's developments attempts a double run, gets rid of one.

-With Bryden sitting two, one in the top, the other being in the back of the twelve Brad calls for a come around to the four foot, gets a piece of the eight.

-A freeze to the back rock by Heidt is followed by a freeze on top for Bryden. Randy still lying two.

-Bryden just can't be undone! Drew made a quality draw to the back of the four, but Randy was able to come right on top to get this, steal another point. 5-1 Bryden and due to the wide spread score and inevitable string of peels that will precede the Bryden strategy, I'm going to sign off this game but will come back later if I notice the score tightens.

Tankard thoughts(draw one)

As I mentioned earlier, the plan that I've set in motion is to "live blog" as many of the webcasted draws as I can for the 2016 Saskatchewan Tankard, so in draw one the featured game is between Saskatoon's Jason Jacobson and from the Sutherland Curling Club,Dean Kleiter.

As an aside, I sincerely appreciate those of you who have taken the time to read this as the end goal is to grow this blog, also a hearty shout-out goes out to Curlingzone who have posted the blog on their website. The content won't go away but anytime I can increase exposure, it can only lead to future benefits.

End one

-Great hit and roll behind the corner by Jacobson lead Rory Golanowski,

-Warren Jackson doubles off the two rocks in the back of the eight, and we're headed for a blank.

-I may have spoke to soon as Jacobson attempted a corner freeze on a rock Kleiter slightly rolled out on, but unfortunately for Jason he chipped off and the blank is alive and well.

End two

-Couple corner guards in play and it appears both skips are shading towards a more aggressive mentality.

-Schwaga(Kleiter lead) hits and sticks behind the button, allows a freeze attempt for Jacobson, and the first real missed shot of the game transpires. Advantage Kleiter.

-The miss is reciprocated as Kleiter second Hersikorn's draw attempt slides through the rings.

-Dustin Kalthoff's first rock is a nose hit, leaving Jacobson lying two, one top four, and the second one being back twelve.

-Pistol alert! Warren Jackson hits and rolls and stuffs it behind the centre.

-A double take out, approximately three feet apart is made by Dean and now the Kleiter rink lies two split in the house. Force is in play

-Jacobson showing the form that led him to last year's provincial final by drawing against three by securing his one point and taking the opening lead.

End three

-Kleiter the aggressor, fires up the corner guard and we're off in the third.
-The youth of the Kleiter front end is becoming noticeable as that's the second glaring miss from Hersikorn, this time rolling out on a relatively simple hit and roll.

-The theme of the entire third end has been hit and roll attempts and thusfar none have been made successfully(Kalthoff comes close putting the pressure on Kleiter)

-A hit and roll is finally made! Jacobson with a peach on his first and their rock is completely behind cover edge of eight foot.Decision time for Kleiter.

-Knowing the blank wasn't feasible, Dean attempts to draw around the guard and the rock edge of eight and hangs on for shot rock at the back.

-Draw against two is what the doctor ordered for Kleiter.

-Kleiter elects to hit, but nonetheless the game is now tied up.

End four

-As  the fourth end heats up, Kleiter lies three due to Jacobson attempting a corner and a tick but then DeConinck Smith delivers a beauty, hits and rolls frozen behind the corner guard.

-In an attempt to pick out the frozen rock, they lose everything and the only rock that remains is a Kleiter rock top twelve foot.

-After a couple rock exchanges, the corner guard remains with virtually no action in the house.

-Big mistake by Warren Jackson, noses a rock that was biting in the house leaving Jacobson two guards to work with,

-Interesting end, Jackson's nose hit followed by Kalthoff's rock that slid to the back four has now made for an suspenseful finish.

-Jason attempting a hit and roll to split the house, rolls out and now Kleiter gets a freebie freeze try.

-Keen ice in Kindersley tricking the respective teams in this draw as an overthrow gives Jacobson a chance at two points. To no one's surprise, Jacobson comes through in the clutch and scores his two points.

End five

-A beautiful corner guard and come around is constructed by Shwaga leaving the Kleiter rink in an inviable position.

-Two rocks grouped together at the top of the twelve by Jacobson earlier in the end has been deemed useful as they were able to come around and sit shot rock buried.

- Jackson, in bail-out mode, makes a wonderful straight back to now lie shot and by saying that the webcast has froze on me. Splendid technology, right!, I'll get it rebooted and see if I can continue on with this match.

-Rebooted the webcast, caught Kleiter's last rock. Had a gimme draw for two in which no mistake was made. Tie ball game after five.

End six

-The sixth end, to enlist a summarization was an end completely controlled by the Kleiter foursome. When Jason went to throw his first, he was facing three and came up a hair short. Kleiter will now look to guard and increase the difficulty of his last.

-The guard is a good one and now Jason is exploring a tap up of his center guard onto his rock in the eight foot to try and score. Maybe 8/10 on a scale of difficulty...

-A lengthy deliberation ensued for the Jacobson group and the bump was the decided upon call. In a shocker, and quite perhaps the TSN turning point in this match, the shot was NOT executed and we have a steal, of three in favour of Kleiter.

End seven

-Left with no other choice, a fuming Jacobson is left to guard, guard, guard....whatever will create offence.

-I would've anticipated a guard/peel/guard/peel game for the next few shots which is exactly what is happening.

-I'll admit, I'm impressed by the mindset of Kleiter going into this match. Even in the seventh end as a Jacobson guard attempt slides deep, conventional wisdom dictates to straight peel up three. Not Dean however. He calls for the hit and roll in front of his own rock top four on behalf of Hersikorn.

-Jason is left with very little to work with. Two wide(very wide) corners not of much consequence and a Kleiter stone in the four foot are all the toys in the pantry.

-Facing third stones, Jason is desperately figuring a way to conjure up a blank.No success on the Kalthoff double attempt.

-Jacobson completes the game saving double. Blank looks inevitable.

End eight

-End starts out as one would expect, corner by Jacobson, two rocks in the house for Kleiter.

-Quinn Hersikorn completes his required duties by hitting both Jacobson stones out. Previously to that, Jacobson had looked to push back the Kleiter stones to create a wall at the back of the house. Textbook play there...

-At this rate, with the amount of tap backs tried by the 2015 provincial finalists, he may be facing eight on his last. The house has been painted yellow!

-Warren Jackson is asked to make a three foot runback to sit five. No problemo

-A very nice freeze by Kalthoff to give himself a chance in a game where, say sans the first three ends has been of no help to Jacobson.

-.It's raining freezes in Kindersley, what a beautiful toss by Jason.

-You do that, I'll do one better says Dean and Jason is forced to draw against three on his last.The draw is made, and Kleiter will hold a 6-4 lead with hammer playing nine.

End nine

-Jayden Schwaga with the kiss of death,ie the tick shot and this will likely silence any steal efforts of Jacobson

-DeConick Smith, in line with most teams who trail replaces the recently peeled off guard to retain two guards up high.

-Mistake by Hersikorn on the peel attempt, stuffed it. I surmise he tried to give it a little too much juice.

-With a Kleiter rock touching the twelve and his own stone sitting in the back of the twelve, Jacobson calls for  a come around around the Kleiter top twelve placement, fairly well thrown rock.

-Jackson and Kleiter huddling up with Jacobson sitting two, the runback double from their own guard is called.......and made. Jackson is having  a game this afternoon.

-Kleiter lying two, one biting the four, and the other at the back fo the eight. A failed freeze by Jacobson and this contest will conclude. At the surprise of me anyway, he attempts the double, misses and now Kleiter will have a wide open draw for two, just needs paint. Paint is what he got.8-4 Kleiter.

That concludes the coverage for the Kleiter-Jacobson tilt. I may or may not, leaning towards likely not providing live updates for the evening draw but will be back up and at er for draws tomorrow.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tankard thoughts

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.