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.

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