Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 Brier Preview

A hearty congratulations goes out to Team Alberta led by the Manitoba convert Chelsea Carey as they prevailed as the Giants of Grande Prairie and will now represent Team Canada at the 2016 Ford World Women's Curling Championship held in Swift Current,Saskatchewan. The Scotties, even with the largely surmised consensus that the field was a two team race translated into a really competitive, enjoyable event to take in and there were a plethora of surprises, no more than Krista McCarville triumphing all the way to the final after a six year hiatus.

The Tim Horton's Brier, being hosted by the Rideau Canal is set to begin this Thursday as the infamous and widely hated relegation event will begin followed by the regulation event beginning on Saturday. Curling pendants, most if not all are labelling this particular field as perhaps the strongest ever. Do I have the courage in prognosticating this tremendous collection of talent? Better believe I've acquired the daunting task of breaking down what guarantees to be a week full of fabulous shot making and controversial sweeping techniques. Following the same format I used for the Saskatchewan Tankard and the Scotties, I will rank the teams from one through eleven in descending order whilst creating a separate ranking for the four teams forced to battle in relegation. Enjoy!

11.Team New Brunswick(Mike Kennedy) I'll be blunt, an increasing trademark of this blog in saying that I give the group from the Grand Falls curling club ZERO chance to not just win, to not just not qualify, but am giving them 0.0% chance of winning more then two games. As John Morris, third for Team Canada tweeted out, "There's no free space on the Bingo Card this year", well John this is completely incorrect as New Brunswick is that free space. Proclaiming that this rink isn't headed for relegation would be like saying that the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the right track to be 2017 Stanley Cup Champions. Constructing bold remarks is nothing new for myself but presenting false hope for a listless squad would be doing all an injustice.

Skip:Mike Kennedy
Third:Scott Jones
Second:Marc Lecocq
Lead:Jamie Brannen

10.Team Quebec(Jean-Michel Menard) The 2006 Brier champion is in the house. It's fitting that TSN currently employs Russ Howard as it's lead analyst as many have drawn comparisons to how current Quebec third Martin Crete conducts himself to the way Russ used to by the constant reverberating  screeches that Martin showcases to enhance team communication. The fact that Menard triumphed to a Brier championship back in 2006 speaks to the strength of the field that he's only ranked tenth in my prognostications. There's a couple prominent reasons for this, firstly the depth in Quebec men's curling isn't what it used to be as playdown numbers are dwindling. Team growth really isn't achievable when the regionalized competiton is at an all time low and secondly and quite possibly more importantly, Menard plays sparingly on the World Curling tour so intimidation is probable when he sizes up against the likes of Jacobs and McEwen(that definitely wasn't me foreshadowing who I have as number one and two!). In a normal Brier, I rank the plausibility high that this rink could strive for a .500ish record but not when encapsulating in the gauntlet otherwise known as the 2016 Tim Horton's Brier.

Skip:Jean-Michel Menard
Third:Martin Crete
Second:Eric Sylvain
Lead:Phillipe Menard

9.Team Ontario(Glenn Howard) The country club atmosphere that this team exudes doesn't bode well for it's chances headed into this event. Some, likely most while digesting that I have a Howard ranked ninth will be appalled at the notion but when you dissect a little deeper, the ranking may not be so far fetched. In watching the Ontario provincial final broadcast by Sportsnet in which Glenn upset pre-event favourite and growing notorious provincial choker, I stop it at notorious provincial choker as he's had some admirable results on the Grand Slam circuit, John Epping, you got the impression that Glenn was just happy to be back at the dance and any positive result would purely be a bonus. In my opening of the summarization regarding the Ontario foursome, I referenced a country club atmosphere due to the lineup being trotted out. For years, Glenn has went public on his desire to one day compete in a Brier with son Scott, well after inserting Scott in as the team lead, he can now check it off his bucket list. Long time friend and teammate of Glenn, the great Wayne Middaugh was slotted to play third until he suffered a gruesome injury while enmbarking on an alternate winter sport activity. Richard Hart and Glenn have been teammates for nearly thirteen years, so you just knew when Richard picked up the broom again after a brief "retirement" that he and the younger Howard would once again join forces. If my point wasn't already strong enough  that this rink cares more about relationship sustainability then results out on the ice, they bring in Richard's son Joey on as the alternate. It doesn't feel right supplanting Glenn Howard this low in the seeding but sometimes the dream of getting to the promised land outweighs the anticipation of what you can do once you get there, and this has never been more applicable when delving into Team Howard's chances. 5-6 record tops.

Skip:Glenn Howard
Third:Richard Hart
Second:Adam Spencer
Lead:Scott Howard

8.Team British Columbia(Jim Cotter) The British Columbia men's curling provincials and the name Jim Cotter are becoming synonymous with one another. Six Brier appearances in the last eight seasons has Jim desperate for that sought after breakthrough in Ottawa. When analyzing the rink Cotter has assembled, the common denominator although extremely skilled is that they tend to cave in under pressure. The appointment of John Morris skipping heading into to the 2013/2014 campaign enabled a newfound strategy for Jim who prior to teaming up with John, had the river boat gambler image, taking unnecessary chances when the game didn't call for it. After John left after a one year tenure which nearly saw the four who curl out of the Kelowna/Vernon clubs reach the 2014 Olympics, I've noticed a more mature strategy which has caused fits for fellow opposition.  His backdrop consisting off Rick Sawatzky, Ty Griffith, and Ryan Kuhn are being put into more identifiable roles and this is in lieu of Cotter presenting himself as a more authoritative figure. Tyrel's strength, and stats will back this up is his upweight while Ryan's calling is more with the softer, feel thoughts. Because there a plethora of herculean teams infront of them, I was hesitant to rank them any higher but it would not surprise me in the least if by the end of the week they were playing meaningful games by the weekend.

Skip:Jim Cotter
Third:Ryan Kuhn
Second:Tyrel Griffith
Lead:Rick Sawatzky

7.Team Canada(Pat Simmons) The 2015 Brier final featuring the rinks of Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs and Canada's Pat Simmons rink who when the week began was headlined by John Morris was quite possibly one of the more captivating sporting matches I've been privy to in some time. The made for the subplots that were Team Canada a year was riveting drama with John Morris voluntarily(reportedly) stepping down to third while promoting Saskatchewan born Pat Simmons into the skip position. I for one have a hard time believing that the front end of Thiessen and Rycroft didn't pull a few nudges Morris' way in favour of the change, but that is neither here nor there. The inclusion of Carter Rycroft is a fascinating development as two years ago as a member of the Kevin Koe rink he had  plans to step back from the game completely, well two Brier wins later he is still kicking around and when quantifying the leadership abilities he brings to the table, the Canadian entry is better served for it. Not to make this out  to be a glorified Carter Rycroft appreciation thread, but I truly feel his accomplishments in the game of curling are criminally overlooked. A three time Brier winner, a 2002 Olympic silver medallist, 1998 Canadian Junior finalist and what most people fail to remember is it was he who was the original lead in what became the legendary"Ferbey four" Recollections aside, what will plague Team Canada's chances is a lack of repetition. They purposefully, probably in large part accommodating Rycroft's wishes cut back their competitive schedule. In any sport, less practice results to a decrease in performance. Can they pull a rabbit out of a hat once again in 2016? This blogger says no but I would've said no last year as well.

Skip:Pat Simmons
Third:John Morris
Second:Carter Rycroft
Lead:Nolan Thiessen

6.Team Prince Edward Island(Adam Casey) Adam Casey, a remnant of the former Brett Gallant island junior squad that captured a Canadian junior title back in 2009. Why is this important you ask? Well for starters I don't care who you are but if you can jettison yourself to a Canadian title at any level you belong at this level. Casey for being twenty six has a myriad of experience, not only with the previously mentioned Canadian Junior title, but also when accounting for his time with Brad Gushue. Gushue eventually dumped Casey once Bam-Bam himself, Mark Nichols made his way back to the rock so that left Casey to move back to the Island and form his own team, and he certainly did a commendable job organizing this unit together. David Mathers, fresh off a 2015 Brier appearance representing Team Ontario alongside Mark Kean is Casey's new third after upgrading over Josh Barry. At second we have Anson Carmody who along with Casey celebrated that very same Canadian junior title. Before I introduce the lead for the Islanders, I'd like to go on a tangent focusing in on the importance of team morale. What does team morale mean for me, well it means someone who can brush aside the unfortunate bad breaks, crack a joke during the more tenser times, and maybe I'm waaay off base(I'm not) by saying that team lead Robbie Doherty fulfills all those descriptors to a t. Doherty, better known as the great Thomas Arbucke is undeniably the funniest man in curling with apologies going out to John Cullen. We need more Robbie Doherty's for this great sport to grow. Sport at the end of the day is an entertainment business and win or lose we have to keep the fans engaged. As Arbuckle's famous saying goes, "when in doubt, blame the skip". If I've prognosticated this field correctly, I'm not sure how many times Casey will need to be blamed. Darkhorse playoff entry.

Skip:Adam Casey
Third:David Mathers
Second:Anson Carmody
Lead:Robbie Doherty

5.Team Saskatchewan(Steve Laycock). In my Scotties preview, when previewing the Krista McCarville foursome I eluded to the fact that this was going to be a difficult team to opine about. Well similarly to Krista, I share these exact statements for Steve and his Saskatoon crew.  When I completed my highly acclaimed Saskatchewan Tankard preview, I made it well known that Steve was a shoe-in, I even went as far to say that he might as well have booked his flights before the Tankard commenced. The essence of what was behind me saying that wasn't necessarily an overwhelming endorsement pertaining to Laycock as it was a scathing retort towards the lack of quality for the rest of the Saskatchewan's men curling scene. Let's not call a spade a spade, I think highly of the Laycock rink as a whole but strongly maintain they're positioned incorrectly. Kirk Muyres is the best curler on this team and should be skipping. It pains me to say this as I am a Saskatchewan native myself but I believe Steve on a personal basis is unquestionably one of the more overrated curlers in this country. He's been graced with great lineups but has failed to deliver time and time again. He'll always favour the draw over the hit which is okay but it's one thing to favor a selection, it's another to not have that ability in your repertoire all together.  The playbook on how to beat Steve has never been a secret and in order for Saskatchewan to try and end this thirty six year Brier curse, that aforementioned penchant to always rely on the draw will HAVE to change.

Skip:Steve Laycock
Third:Kirk Muyres
Second:Colton Flasch
Lead:Dallan Muyres

4.Team Newfoundland and Labrador(Brad Gushue) The game of curling is currently enthralled in an evolutionary state, a thought shared by many in the community and it can thanked in large part, or frowned upon, whether you're a glass half full or half empty type of individual to Brad Gushue. These controversial brushing techniques were brought to the forefront by Brad and in wake of these discoveries, broom manufacturers have been at odds with the National curling bodies. In fact, in lieu of a video that the Gushue rink posted via Youtube, Curling Canada elected that for the Scotties and Brier to ban hair brooms because of how, with particular techniques can greatly manipulate a stone. Many have been aptly quoted by saying that with such sweeping heads, it's become more of a sweeper's game then a throwers game which is a terrible direction for the sport. To get this back pertaining to the chances of Gushue because I already approximately about a month ago eloquently pieced my thoughts with the health and longevity of this game. Brad Gushue got off to a blazing start on the Grand Slam schedule, and yes feel free to correlate the brushing advantages they may have had earlier on in the season while others tried to catch up. The season has since cooled down considerably but that's not to say Brad doesn't have envisions in bringing back Brier Gold and this becoming Team Canada for the 2017 Brier being hosted by, ironically enough.....St.John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. The other team who enters playdowns in these parts(ok, that may have been a uncalled for exaggeration) is certainly pulling for a Gushue 2016 win.  The x factor is this, can Bretts  Gallant, who in Junior gravitated towards the clutch penchant step up his game and be an asset because in recent Brier championships, the subpar performances are becoming a norm, as if it to label him a liability which is shocking because in lesser events, I've seen games where he's singlehandedly carried the Gushue four to victory.

Skip:Brad Gushue
Third:Mark NIchols
Second:Brett Gallant
Lead:Geoff Walker

3.Team Alberta(Kevin Koe)  This quiet, unassuming skip doesn't give off a fiery competitior vibe, but if you solely judge his demeanor on the ice, you'll quickly ascertain that this is someone that is ultra competitive and will do anything to conquer the opponent. Kevin Koe left his Brier winning team after the 2013-2014 season and joined forces with 2010 Olympic Gold Medallists Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy while prodding Brent Laing away from Glenn Howard. After self admitted struggles in 2014/12015 which I consider hilarious because this team did after all win their province and reach the hometown Brier, subtle changes were made headed into this season. Last year, Koe instilled Brent Laing to hold the broom for him while Marc Kennedy threw third, and for whatever reason the dynamic just didn't mesh, so the decision was made for Kennedy to hold the broom. For what it's worth I have an opinion on this, and I'd hope you care being as how you're choosing to read this and that's I feel if someone is going to effectively thrive in the third position, he or she must embark on the responsibility of calling angles in the house. There are very few teams who have compiled championships when the third is not in the house calling line for the skip and the reason for this  is by preventing this combination, the third in question loses egagement in the game. Once again, just a personal observation. Experience up their ying-yang, no reason after what has thusfar been an incredible season this team won't be around to participate in Semi-final Saturday.

Skip:Kevin Koe
Third:Marc Kennedy
Second:Brent Laing
Lead:Ben Hebert

2.Team Northern Ontario(Brad Jacobs) When I view Team Jacobs on television, at times I forget if I'm watching curling or a body building competition. Tongue in cheek comment of course(or was it) as there skills on the ice continue to substantiate year after year. Ryan Fry, third for this unit before finding a quasi permanent home with Brad, had been around the block spending significant time with Brad Gushue and before that Jeff Stoughton. Essentially, a who's who of curling. The knock on  Fry has always been can he fit in from a team chemistry perspective. A little older then the rest of the team, the preceding overbearing reputation that he once had has been replaced by a calming influence for three others who are related by blood. Being the non relative on a team full of family would be a difficult scenario to walk into in any sport, but I give Fry major props for understanding his role and focusing on just making shots, in which he's made several over the last two to three years. An Olympic hangover is a real thing, and we may have seen drops of that last season, but hangovers shouldn't last more then a year, well actually they shouldn't last more then a day but you catch my drift. I spoke to how I felt Jim Cotter has became more authorative in recent years, and the same observation is applicable when describing Jacobs. This doesn't lack confidence, I'd be shredded to pieces if I suggested they did but the big difference between the 2014/2015 Brad and the 2015/2016 Brad is he has that will to win back. I was flopping back and forth to who I thought would reign victorious, so we'll see if Jacobs follows fellow Northern Ontario rep McCarville's footsteps by being the finalist or whether he'll replicate what he blazed through in 2013, a Brier Championship.

Skip:Brad Jacobs
Third:Ryan Fry
Second:E.J Harnden
Lead:Ryan Harnden

1.Team Manitoba(Mike McEwen) The best comparable when describing the trail that has finally led Mike McEwen to this Ottawa Brier could be when assessing the plight of Phil Mickelson. For years, Mickelson was coined as the greatest player to never win a major in golf but finally broke through at the 2004 Masters. McEwen on the other hand always drew the short straw, first it was not being able to squeeze by Jeff Stoughton, then it was the Cinderella provincial run of Rob Fowler only to lose a heartbreaker to Reid Carruthers in 2015. The prevailing thought was would McEwen ever find a way to secure a provincial title? A quirk in this year's provincial saw him lock up a berth before the final was ever played. Super junior Matt Dunstone, our 2016 Canadian Junior champion had already committed to the World Juniors in Copenhagen which rendered him ineligible to compete in the Brier. Let me just say, and I'm aware this does nothing when analyzing the chances of McEwen, in all reality a useless thought and that's that Matt Dunstone is the best individual thrower in the world today, and I don't even view this as a bold assertion. Playing Dunstone in the final, a game in which he won, got his flight booked to the Nation's capital but how else did they do it? First they made the perplexing decision heading into the season to name long time rival Jon Mead as fifth player/coach. Was Mead the missing link, perhaps as this Winnipeg rink flourished immediately. A long standing great team playing in their first Brier and winning, where did I hear that before *cough Kevin Koe cough*.

Skip:Mike McEwen
Third:B.J Neufeld
Second:Matt Wozniak
Lead:Denni Neufeld

Now for the relegation thoughts, and once again following a descending order.

4.Team Nunavut(Wade Kingdon) I'd like to formally retract my previous fears I had heading into the Scotties when I opined that I worried the Nunavut ladies would get smashed in every game(literally not figuratively as I have no idea if they got smashed in the patch afterwards). They didn't, they actually won a game. I was surprised as were most curling pendants. Can the Nunavut men reciprocate this feat? I doubt it but after watching the fortunes of the ladies, I'm not ruling anything out. They first match up againt Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories, so we should have a better measuring stick pertaining to competitveness after this first contest. I'm predicting 0-3 but I give them a slight chance at registering a 1-2 mark.

Skip:Wade Kingdon
Third:Dennis Masson
Second:Aaron Fraser
Lead:Bruce Morgan

3.Team Yukon(Bob Smallwood) Last time I conjured up a Brier preview, I joked that the first time Smallwood participated in a Brier he was known as Bob Andrews, the second time Bob Smallwood, so I wondered out loud what surname would be used in his third trip.. Surprisingly, he remains Bob Smallwood. I give these boys credit, as they toppled a "Yukon" foe that bent the residency rules by bringing in ex Newfie and Canadian Junior finalist Matt Blandford in for playdowns. Smallwood showed who was boss up north. Can he show who's boss on a National Stage. I remember watching last year's relegation final which pitted Smallwood against Casey and remember thinking that shot for shot Team Smallwood held their own, strategically was their the Islanders controlled the outcome. The proof will be in the pudding to see if they'v put in the conceptual work this off-season to have a farmer's chance this season.

Skip:Bob Smallwood
Third:Jon Solberg
Second:Clint Abel
Lead:Scott Odian

2.Team Nova Scotia(Jamie Murphy) Great hitters, extremely great hitters. Unfortunately, their touch game is about as good as John Daly is after he realizes he's missing the cut(reference via YouTube John Daly making a thirteen on a par three).If I was playing Murphy, irregardless where Murphy placed his first stone I'd be attempting freeze after freeze, come around after come around. You don't beat this team going up and down the sheet. This is a very simplistic way of looking at things but sometimes simplicisty is the best recipe for guaranteed results. They may be able to beat the likes of Kingdon and Smallwood 2-1, but unfortunately this may be a faulty approach going up against the team who I've ranked at number one.

Skip:Jamie Murphy
Third:Jordan Pinder
Second:Scott Saccary
Lead:Phil Crowell

1.Team Northwest Territories(Jamie Koe) Based on the presumption that the more Northern Koe will get through relegation, we'll be tuning in shortly to a good ol' Koe v Koe tilt. So what is a Koe v Koe tilt you ask. It's a game in which the Alberta Koe destroys Jamie on the ice whilst shaking early only for Jamie showcasing his skills destroying Kevin in the patch. In all seriousness, the acquisition of broom slammer Chris Schille makes this the team to beat in this much maligned event. The experience of Koe and Schille will prove to be too much and in the main field, feel free to place your bets that Koe will finish eleventh just ahead of Mike Kennedy.

Skip:Jamie Koe
Third:Chris Schille
Second:Brad Chorostowski
Lead:Robert Borden