It's that time of the season again. For curling fans, anxiously awaiting your provinces representative for the Scotties/Tim Horton's Brier is usually an exciting time as usually in some way or another you become invested in a particular team that peaks our interest in following the event. In Saskatchewan most will suggest that the provincial Tankard is a coronation of sorts for one Steve Laycock and while most years I'd agree, I even went so far to say that he might as well have booked his flight tickets prior to the event last year, an inconsistent slam season has planted a seed of doubt when assessing the 2017 Tankard field. As with most of my ranking entries, I will begin in descending order and provide a brief synopsis below each team. Enjoy!
16.Ryan Armstrong- Generally when compiling these previews I pride myself on being knowledgeable when it comes to analyzing each combatant in the field but unfortunately my background regarding the Armstrong foursome is sparse to put it mildly. Doing the best I could, I discovered they had a pouros showing at a Regina Saskatchewan Curling Tour stop back last November where they were pushed aside quicker then Sacramento King DeMarcus Cousins is when he engages in his almost daily self serving rants. I would presume for a team like this, who boasts a very short curling resume, they're just happy to make a Tankard appearance and after they inevitably get easily pushed aside by the top seed Laycock perhaps they'll gain a comfort level and give their second opponent at least a partial test.
15.Dale Craig- Their tankard ticket was booked with an improbable win at the Moose Jaw Heritage Inn classic. Perusing the field, it's my opinion that this event possessed one of the tour's deeper fields so full credit goes out to Craig for conquering the friendly city and sincerest apologies go out to the Armstrong rink(if you couldn't tell already this is very much a on-the-go preview) for reaching the finals of this aforementioned event. I vividly remember a couple years back when Craig brought in the recently out of Junior Brady Scharback who I'll touch on later which I thought was an excellent move as it morphed in some youthful exuberance for the veteran Craig rink. With the Sharback courtship a distant memory, I'll be interested to find out whether third Cory Fleming, a past skip in his own right can replace the lofty void left by Scharback. Similarly to Armstrong, I can't visualize a scenario where they leave Tisdale with a win under their belts.
14.Scott Bitz-Bitz and longtime teammate Aryn Schmidt ventured out North to touch base with brand new teammates Warren Jackson and Dean Kleiter. It's a unique lineup with Dean Kleiter, notoriously known for his time throwing third stones for Bruce Korte throwing lead bricks for this first year unit. When I was first privy to this roster complexion my first thought was are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Someone like Scott Bitz who's attended two Briers and being how this years championship isn't in Calgary we can all but eliminate his chances who' has his type of pedigree, will a renowned strategist like Kleiter who's recently dipped his feet into Junior National coaching circles be willing to accept skips orders when a disagreement is brought to the forefront? I suspect communication to be the teams greatest detriment.
13.Brad Heidt-One of the greater mysteries in this Saskatchewan fall season was how the Brad Heidt was able to sustain the level of success they carried out on the Saskatchewan Curling Tour. Not intending to disparage on age but facts don't lie, the game of Curling is transitioning into a younger persons game at the elite level and yet here we are and every event you pull up Brad finds himself in contention. How do I see this weekend playing out for the events elder statesmen? Ascertaining from the lowly ranking of 13, I don't think too highly of his chances but if this year is any evidence, he'll end up surprising and leave the Tankard causing fits for the majority of the opposition. If the louder you yell corellates to how you'll play, then he enters every event as the decisive favourite.
12.Drew Heidt-I can't speak to the commitment level of the Drew Heidt rink heading into the season but what I can difintively speak to is the talent of Drew's personal ability as a last rock thrower. In juniors I was never one that formed this opinion based on visual evidence but hearsay made it abundantly clear that it was his brother Mitch who inherited the bulk of the Heidt curling gene but from Tankards that I've witnessed in the last number of years it's been Drew that's been on top of the mountain figuratively as when played with his Dad a couple years back and even when he skipped a different team(not the one he formulated this year) the best player always came back to Drew. They sprinted through Northern playdowns which admittedly included a plethora of filler teams but we shouldn't take this team lightly because furthering my point from earlier from a pure shotmakers perspective I'd have no qualms ranking Drew inside the top five.
11.Jason Ackerman-An opinion not shared by many but as is a staple of this blog, I have no issue advocating for a contrarian stance. I just finished theorizing that Drew Heidt was a top five shot maker in the event but where Ackerman particularly struggles once again in my estimation in pressure packed situations. In a fourth end of an opening preliminary game I'd expect Jason to make a runback double look routine but as the game develops more meaning he doesn't seem to be able to withstand the moment. The team behind him, Curtis Horwath, Brent Goeres and Scott Deck are three technically sound throwers but aside from Ackerman who's won a Canadian mixed championship, the others haven't gotten past the provincial pastures and judging from the depth of this field, I think fighting through the prairies will have to wait at least another year.
10.Brent Gedak-Before commencing on this preview, I went back into the archives to read my synopsises from last year and through doing so, it became apparant that I didn't provide Brent and the boys enough respect. A seeding of twelve was too low because what most competitors from the Kindersley Tankard would have you know is that Brent consistently bailed out his team with heroic,hail mary shots time and time again. You're probably asking, why when I just finished explaining that "lucky" shots were behind Gedak's triumphs would I choose to elevate the ranking. Allow me to point out, especially the games that were webcast that it was my observation that the rest of this roster played poorly, much below their own calibre and a bounce back is a formality. The 2016 version of Brent along with the others shooting up to snuff equals a difficult out.
9.Carl DeConinck Smith-After stepping away from the game for a couple seasons, DeConinck Smith is back and arguably better then ever. When Scott Manners lost third Tyler Lang from his 2012 provincial winning rink he brought in DeConinck Smith and the perception was Manners team was strengthened but as is the case from time to time, seemingly the chemistry wasn't there. Was I surprised that the wins weren't more frequent why yes but now that is a thing of the past he's recharged with former Brier representative Jeff Sharp. Sharp, as I eluded to last year is well known for his antics and high pitched screams but you can't deny his superior skillset. Sharp can fall under the group I've created as continuation of this preview lives on, "top five shotmakers". To attempt to provide something constructive which no doubt is few and far between I'll vocalize my curiosity asto why Sharp wasn't more highly sought after from a team with National aspirations. His past Brier performances were exemplary and would be an asset for a fringe team that frequents the Grand Slam circuit. Carl has assembled a "fringe" team for purposes of contending status at a Saskatchewan provincial Tankard but I'm adamant Jeff is selling himself short.
8,Randy Bryden-Full disclosure that I originally had Bryden ranked MUCH lower(worse) but that faint voice in my head is telling me to NOT bet against "Big Game" Bryden. From what I've gathered they don't match wits in a lot of the big events that some of their fellow opposition in this field but when they do they perform admirably. One of those teams that could probably sit idle for three months, enter a B level World Curling Tour and find themselves in the winners circle by the end. Do I think Randy will be seeded eighth by his peers? No, but I do think they'll find themselves near a "C" qualifier by the end of the week. Rule of thumb, never rule out a Bryden.
7. Ryan Deis-The role reversal that now third Scott Manners undertook a year ago was noteworthy but also led to mixed results. In year two of this likely lengthy experiment the Deis-Manners battery led to a Saskatchewan tour win and an automatic berth in this championship. One could presume that a berth was inevitable with or without the Tour win but here's where I draw the line when assessing the chances. Let me preface this by saying it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the playoffs however a red flag is Ryan's ability or lack thereof to throw the big weight. In today's era of curling,you can be a master of the touch game, ala Glenn Howard but if you don't have the upweight repertoire in your arsenal then you're behind the eight ball. Even the great Howard has fallen victim to being one dimensional and the same fate for Deis and co is bound to transpire.
6.Jason Jacobson-When surmising the individuals beneath Jason Jacobson, what you may be surprised to learn is that Jason himself is the only member of this nucleus not privy to a National Championship.Dustin Kalthoff has most recently forged his niche in the Mixed Doubles game having paired up Marliese Kasner to a Worlds appearance, Nicholas Neufeld spent time with Jake Hersikorn at the 2016 Canadian Juniors and of course Rory Golanowski had his fun in the sun with the Bruce Korte going to a couple Briers. Although you may chalk this up to useless tidbits it's relevant in the sense that Jason has caved under pressure previously, and even with his Nationally experienced rink I'm not sure it's enough to justify ranking them any higher then six.
5.Brady Scharback-As a disclaimer, I tend to have a propensity to sometimes overrate the youth in the sport of curling. Those opposed to my line of thinking cite the lack of experience as a negative connotation but can you really blame me? Look at the way sport has evolutionized, straying away from curling for just a moment but in hockey, today's youth have taken the league by storm as Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine and Artem Panarin are arguable Hart trophy candidates and a nineteen year old in Connor McDavid is a sure bet to win the award. In baseball, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have captured the imaginations of even the stingiest traditionalists. So why in curling do some consider Brady's 2017 Brier aspirations an afterthought.Truth is they shouldn't because unless I'm mistaken which I never am, Braeden Moskowy was just two years removed from junior when he captured his first purple heart so I don't understand the reservations that the Brady bunch could follow suit. Additionally, don't understate the value of the experience gained from Brady and third Jake Hersikorn from reaching the 2016 Canadian Mixed final. Earlier I stated I originally had Randy Bryden further down and with Scharback will be kicking myself if they make a run because my premonition was to rank them even higher.
4.Kody Hartung- For a second, I'd like to throw some shade at those operating Curlsask.ca. Updating rosters and positonal alignment can be a tedious activity(detect the sarcasm). In all seriousness, if we want the sport of Curling to grow in this province, baby steps such as ensuring that we have correct roster alignments would make it easier on fans that want to keep tabs on the latest proceedings. That pet peeve aside, only recently was I informed from a non tankard participant yet regular tour goer that Josh Heidt is indeed calling the game for the Hartung foursome. I notice on the Tankard information portion of the webpage,they've updated the Meachem team to read "Team Casey", why hasn't the same update been taken care of for Hartung. And just like that, I spent the entire synopsis on website complaining and not one second in discussion how I view this young rink. Such is life.
3.Bruce Korte-To be completely honest, the two and three positions were interchangeable but when the cookie crumbled I elected to slide Bruce in the three hole. To be blunt, it's been an extraordinary year for Bruce who's backed by the Marsh twins and Matt Lang. I haven't always been a believer in Korte's sustainability but what sealed it for me was their aptitude in the Grand Slam hosted in North Battleford. They put the Sponsors exemption to great use giving the likes of Charley Thomas and Scot Kyle Smith all they could handle. As a side note and I'm fully aware I'm guilty of going on unrelated tangents but Korte's fortitude in North Battleford brings into question why one of Saskatchewan's top female teams weren't also granted said exemption but that's another conversation for another day. Until his 2010 win he was the Northern version of Scott Bitz as his first two Briers were hosted in the same city. His third Brier finally travelled him to the Atlantic and I'm sure he has ideas of going back to the Atlantic one more time.
2.Adam Casey-It's even weird for me to write that 2009 Canadian Junior champion Adam Casey could skip a team again to the Brier.......as a representative of the Green and White. As I indicated in the opening I pride myself on astute research prior to engaging in this pieces although after reading this their is zero to support this notion but Casey if successful would have to one of a small group of curlers who have represented three separate provinces at this prestigious championship. Third Catlin Schneider was recently interviewed by Twine time and gave a breakdown of the various lineup changes that now Team Casey, formerly Team Meachem have gone through. From Adam originally being brought on as second to eventually Meachem holding the broom with Adam throwing last stones to now Casey exclusively taking over skipping duties. This is my thought. Does an import like Casey who according to Schneider's interview had no relationship with anyone on the team prior to joining forces coming and eventually becoming the general create dissension? I'll say this, and for the millionth time probably way off base but anything less then a finals appearance I can see this short lived entity disbanding. You don't bring over an Islander, immerse in a bunch of changes and stay the course at the hands of defeat. Especially when you're nowhere close to securing a Trials or Pre-trials berth. What gives me room for optimism was their finalist at the just completed Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic held in Arizona. If the lessons learned on the desert can be translated to the cold confines of Tisdale, look out!
1.Steve Laycock- No idea how the Laycock rink has internally viewed their season but I'll go out on a limb and classify their season to date a mitigated disaster. You don't have the type of 2015-2016 season they enjoyed, Slam final appearances, Canada Cup successes only to follow that up by not qualifying in most event and more concerning the visible regression that has occurred, By saying all of that, their up against best on best each and every week on tour and not a lot of other comrades in this field have the luxury of saying that. Laycock v the provincial field is like comparing the Alabama Crimson Tide of the NCAA battling the giants of the SEC weekly, the Georgia's, the Auburn's etc etc and then all of a sudden being afforded the opportunity of battling an inferior Washington program when the game really mattered.O wait, that happened? All joking aside, it's Laycock against the field and even though he hasn't been as dominant he should have enough in the tank to prevail.