Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts Preview

After humming and hawing for  a little while I've decided to continue what I debuted last curling season, and that was previews for both  the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Tim Hortons's Brier. The 2017 Scotties kicks off this week in St.Catharines,Ontario. As I usually note in these previews, I most certainly encourage feedback and as has become tradition, I will rank the teams in descending order whilst creating a separate list for the four teams involved in the pre-qualifier/relegation portion. Am I crazy that next year Curling Canada is adopting a pool format? Not at all but it trumps this ridiculously conceived relegation event. Enjoy!

11.Team Nova Scotia(Mary Mattatall)

This one is a difficult prognosis for me. I was under the belief, in many aspects still am that the state of Nova Scotian women's curling was headed in a positive direction. As much as their are still some noteworthy achievements from the women in the province, particularly the run that now "retired?" Mary Fay went on last season all the way to a Canadian Junior title, the provincials taught me, and kudos to a regional network for providing a webcast that until the now led Kristin Clarke team becomes fully fledged in women's play, Nova Scotia curling is in for a bumpy ride nationally the next  couple of seasons. Not to sound too harsh but in the select webcasts I was privy to, I can difinitively say that Matatall's foursome looked to be the weakest of the bunch and am still shocked that one of Jill Brothers or Mary-Anne Arsenault didn't reign victorious. As the ranking of number eleven will clearly illustrate, I project tough sledding for the Mattatall and they should be thanking the heavens that a pouros showing at this year's event won't decimate their province into the following year's relegation.

Skip:Mary Mattatall
Third:Margaret Cutcliffe
Second:Jill Alcoe-Holland
Lead:Andrea Saulnier

10.Team Newfoundland and Labrador(Stacie Curtis)

Curtis is back at the Scotties after repeating as provincial champion.  No questioning Stacie is an unique talent,winning a Canadian Junior title but what I harped on in last year's preview remains prevalent and that is the lack of competition they receive in the province. For years, Heather Strong boasted a formidable foursome that would give Curtis fits at a provincial level and sporadically would hold her own on the national stage but with Heather's commitment and passion to the sport seemingly dwindling, the games that she probably plays with any true meaning are likely slim to none prior to provincials. Not knowing much pertaining to team third Erin Porter, I felt as if she more then held her own and was the unheralded M.V.P for a rink that compiled three wins in Grande Prairie. The ceiling here is four wins and I may be being generous but in order to slightly improve on that benchmark they will require an equal to career performance out of Porter.

Skip:Stacie Curtis
Third:Erin Porter
Second:Julie Devereaux
Lead:Erica Trickett

9.Team Quebec(Eve Belisle)

Only seven teams entered the Quebec women's playdowns. For what it's worth I find it puzzling because for years Marie-France Larouche was not only consistently representing the province of Quebec but was contending, battling her way en route to the 2004 Scotties final before bowing out to Colleen Jones From my vantage point, that should've captured the imaginations of the Quebecois female junior curlers to one day strive to reach the pinnacle of the sport but for whatever reason it hasn't happened and as we sit in 2016, the women's game in this wonderful province is becoming extinct.No slight intended towards Eve Belisle however as Marie-France slowly but surely scales back her commitment, reminiscent to that in Newfoundland and Labrador with Heather Strong, we're growing closer to a Belisle auto berth. She is entering her third Scotties appearance, last qualifying in 2010 and along the way has picked up some remnants from the now dissolved Lauren Mann rink. I will preface this synopsis by acknowledging the ranking may end up being too low but ultimately a lack of spieling on the World Curling tour combined with the fact in previous appearances Eve has failed to rise to the occasion I think can safely justify the ranking of nine.

Skip:Eve Belisle
Third:Lauren Mann
Second:Trish Hill
Lead:Brittany O'Rourke

8.Team Prince Edward Island(Robyn MacPhee)

The MacPhee/Birt/Rebecca Jean MacDonald  teams always seem to enter the national spotlight each year with small iterations. This time it's former skipper Suzanne Birt taking an unknown leave of absence from the sport thus fully fledging McPhee into the skipping position once again. Although primarily an useless tidbit, I doubt you'll find a curler in the field that throws with more rotation than robyn and coming from someone such as myself that historically throws with little handle, I'm left fascinated by the contrast. Basically here's the dilemma, it's extremely difficult to assess the plight of this team because like many other teams behind them in these rankings they're drawn the misfortune of playing in very small provincial fields. In the case of P..E.I, the real only adversarie that stood in her way was 2015 National Travellers Champion Lisa Jackson. Now, if the only real threat standing in your way is a club curler champion, either those assigned to grow the game on the Island are failing or , in an area that I feel strongly about maybe it's time to examine the eligibility for those that are allowed in a Club Curler championship. My tangent aside, the thing I appreciate with the way they've assembled this team is that they're committed to bringing on board some of the former top juniors to acquire them experience. Look no further then Sarah Fullerton,  who skipped her Prince Edward Island foursome to three Canadian junior experience and the hope is that with that national experience in her back pocket she won't falter under increased pressure.

Skip:Robyn MacPhee
Third:Sarah Fullerton
Second:Meaghan Hughes
Lead:Michelle McQuaid

7.Team Saskatchewan(Penny Barker)

The seventh seed in her provincial entering the event, Penny defied the odds and conquered a very tough Saskatchewan field and achieved a berth to her team's first ever Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The amazing thing when analyzing this squad was that the provincial bonspiel was only their third even together as a team. An anomaly it would seem from the exterior but not when you take into account unless I have my facts incorrect this is the second consecutive champion that won Saskatchewan that played less than four events together as a team before commencing play at provincials. Moral of this story you ask? In 2018, look for a team that comes in very green to represent the Prairie province. Getting back to the chances of Barker, unfortunately as a Saskatchewanian I don't consider them great as a lack of national seasoning could prove to be their demise. Also, and keep in mind that I'm aware that this applies to nearly every team is that once the upper echelon scour the tapes of Penny's provincial triumphs they'll be taken a back for how much she favours the hit game so I expect nothing less to the opposition make a concerted effort to junk it up more than usual as an effective game plan.

Skip:Penny Barker
Third:Deanna Doig
Second:Lorraine Schneider
Lead: Danielle Sicinski

6.Team Alberta(Shannon Kleibrink)

Thanks to Rogers Sportsnet, I was able to tune into the Alberta Provincial semi-final and final and as it so turned out, Shannon along with super spare Heather Nedohin who spared Shannon who sustained an injury earlier in that week went undefeated in the modified triple knockout event. When I was casually scouring linescores early on in the proceedings, I was surprised that Shannon was having so much success only to come to find out that half of it could be thanked to the 2012 Scotties champion Nedohin. As well as Shannon and her entire played throughout the week and into the final, I can't help but feel she was the benefactor of capitalizing on some of finalists Val Sweeting mistakes rather then be the aggressor and win the game on her terms. The prototypical opportunist if  there ever was one!. After careful consideration, the reason for the middle of the pack ranking is because the likes of Rachel Homan and Chelsea Carey won't settle for safe, open play and the jury is out on whether the repetition is there to put it together over an eleven game stretch.

Skip:Shannon Kleibrink
Third:Lisa Eyamie
Second:Sarah Wilkes
Lead:Allison Thiessen

5.Team Northern Ontario(Krista McCarville)

Beating Tracy Fleury at the 2016 Northern Ontario Scotties is an achievement not to be taken lightly, Fleury was surely going to get her revenge in 2017, correct? Not so fast as McCarville once slayed the proverbial giants and is headed back to another Scotties. Often times when conducting these previews  I like to point out some of the curlers who I perceive to be some of the better individual curlers in this field and I don't think anybody especially after clamouring over her 2016 Cinderella run to the final will take issue when I classify Krista as  a top five curler in the field.  I was guilty myself last year when prior to the event when I mistakenly gave her the team ranking of seven and have to continually remind myself that before her lengthy absence she was nearly our Olympic representative in Vancouver. So you're asking yourself why after hefty praise is she only ranked fifth? Well, it was a difficult decision no doubt but when I break down her comrades with her, they're a very excitable bunch, maybe not as excitable as Darren Moulding  was when he captured his elusive tankard this past weekend but concentration is something that could be a hinderance for a team that because of reaching the final in '16 will be looking to match that feat this year. Can Ashley Sippala who I thought was just so so in my viewings be a better version of herself? If not, I foresee a slight dip from this entry.

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

4.Team Canada(Chelsea Carey)

After reading the first seven previews of teams I've completed the essence I took out of it was that I've been largely positive however I may buck the trend with the Carey team. Something just feels off with the chemistry every time I watch this team. And if my premonition is correct can we really be surprised as remember that Heather Nedohin decided to step back from the sport prior to the 2015-2016 and the only reason why Carey was made available because she herself was booted from the now Kelsey Rocque rink. I honestly believe that had this team not beat McCarville in the final last year that it would've been a one year experiment. For a lot of the teams that frequent the Grand Slam series, winning provincial championships isn't good enough as the carat of the Olympic trials is all anyone builds towards now a days. Their season on the grand slam circuit hasn't been great in 2016-2-17 and for those astute curling fans you'll already know that the 2015-2016 campaign was a mitigated disaster  prior to getting hot at the right time. This team wreaks the smell that was all over the Pat Simmons a rink ago and would be genuinely surprised if they come up big in the biggest moments again.

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

3.Team British Columbia(Marla Mallett)

Am I off base when I call Marla the Henrik Stenson of curling?. You'll understand the comparison to Henrik shortly after I finish describing Marla but with this Mallett rink as a whole, you won't find a more bland style of curling, uber defensive that will make even the  stoutest of curling fans turn away from the television when they're the featured game. Unfortunately for myself and curling fans a far, I'm predicting big things for Marla over the next week so prepare to turn off your television sets accordingly. Marla's approach to the game of curling is dangerously mundane, as when she wins a game 3-2 the storyline will be that she had too many rocks in play. And before i go any further,I'll just go on record that Henrik is the blandest gentlemen in the game of golf thus I felt the comparison was appropriate. Marla has teamed up with Shannon Aleksic who you may remember teamed up with Kelly Scott a year go and recruited the front end from the former Jill Thurston team out of Manitoba. I talked momentarily about how some of the elite skips won't settle for defensive first approaches however when it comes to Marla, frustration will set in for her opponents and impatience which will lead to strategical endeavours that are unnecessary. Marla is the master of the car and mouse game and that approach I maintain will book her a spot on Semi-final Saturday.

Skip:Marla Mallett
Third:Shannon Aleksic
Second:Brette Richards
Lead:Blaine de Jager

2.Team Manitoba(Michelle Englot)

Before I critique the chances of Englot,I'd be remiss if I, continuing on the theme of sharpshooters if I didn't chronicle third Kate Cameron.. Every Scotties and Brier possesses the quintessential breakout star with arguably it being Jocelyn Peterman last year and this year I'm confident when I say that I expect Cameron to take the crown from Jocelyn. Englot has been on national airwaves at select times this winter and every time I see them play the one recycled thought is how impressed I am towards the game of Cameron. Now this team, formerly the Kristy MacDonald skipped foursome is frantically attempting to acquire enough points to earn direct entrance into the 2017 Canadian Olympic trials and a stellar showing at the Scotties would go  a long way.  Michelle, who's making her ninth Hearts appearance is a cagey veteran of the sport and although she's achieved countless individual accolades, she's never had this kind of team that realistically is expected to be playoff bound. From my readings the majority of curling fans aren't as optimistic as I am with her chances and if I've correctly prognosticated the field we'll be seeing Michelle in her first final but with  Manitoba colors, a stark contrast from her usual green and white. We just had a Saskatchewan transplant win gold for Alberta at the Canadian juniors, so why couldn't it happen twice?

Skip:Michelle Englot
Third:Kate Cameron
Second:Leslie Wilson
Lead:Raunora  Westcott

1.Team Ontario(Rachel Homan)

The game of curling needs role models. The way the Homan rink conducts themselves on the ice encompasses everything that is right about the sport.  The men's game took notice to substantive fitness regimes probably earlier then most elite lady teams did but the Homan four revolutionized the way their gender needs to prepare both in the gym and mentality. The Olympics have altered the path of the sport, no secret being revealed there and Homan has pushed the envelope perhaps more than anyone else has ever done and results show. Devastation ensued during the 2016 provincials when they succumbed to the upset of the century when Jenn Hanna took them down. Three victories on tour, five finals appearances in total have them revved up as the hometown Ontario favourites in St.Catharines so surely we will be privy to increased motivation from Rachel and company.

Skip:Rachel Homan
Third:Emma Miskew
Second:Joanne Courtney
Lead:Lisa Weagle


4.Team Nunavut(Geneva Chislett)

If cohesion correlated to victories, this carry over from last year's pre qualification event would be in great shape.Unfortunately there surprise win last year against the British Columbians I fear was an aberration and honestly expect a leisurely 0-3 showing. Listen it's imperative for the growth of this championship that a team like Nunavut does show steady growth but the curling community has to be realists by knowing that up north they don't have access to the same resources other provinces do which is why, albeit one of a million reasons why not allowing a team like Chislett's to compete in the full week schedule will inevitably stunt their growth. They've made the trek down to St.Catharines, at least allow them to have  a fulfilling experience.

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

3.Team Northwest Territories(Kerry Galusha)

Kerry was quoted in an TSN article this week as saying that she was borderline embarrassed that they received a free path to the Scotties as no other team entered the NWT women's playdowns. As embarrassing as that conceivably is, if you're Kerry you have to know the reason the numbers have grew extinct in the territory because anybody in their right mind knows they're not beating you. And I'm not insinuating that it's a prudent excuse but the full credit goes out to Galusha because along with brother Jamie Koe an empire has been built up north so much so that in all probability you will see the Koe's represent the N.W.T for the next ten years. Regarding the plight of this year's team, it's been widely publicized that they struggle to accumulate enough coin to entertain joining the bonspiel circuit and in order to recieve tutelage from second year coach John Epping, they must do it through Skype. Disadvantages aplenty!

Skip:Kerry Galusha
Third:Meagan Koehler
Second;Danielle Derry
Lead:Sharon Cotmier

2.Team Yukon(Sarah Koltun)

Before this preview began, in my head I had the Koltun coming out of this relegation event but throughout the course of penning this piece I've had a change of opinion.For starters, they took last year off as a team so you question their readiness for an event such as this IF they're the "chosen ones" and advance to the main field. I could talk more about my thoughts regarding their chances but I won't. Instead, I'd like to raise up a pet peeve as to why Team Koltun is even eligible to represent the Yukon when reportedly three of the four team members are attending school n British Columbia.It was explained to me that being a full time student allows the option to either play for the province you're currently living in for post secondary reasons or can play out of the province that you reside in away from studies which is bogus. Curling Canada needs to do a better job of enforcing residency requirements especially when this new age of importing one player has become so prevalent.. If you're going to school somewhere and are living there during the winter, ala when curling season consummates then inmy humble opinion that's the province must declare into for playdown purposes. Given the choice between the Yukon and British Columbia, it's a no brainer where to declare.

Skip:Sarah Koltun
Third:Chelsea Duncan
Second:Patty Wallingham
Lead:Jenna Duncan

1.Team New Brunswick(Melissa Adams)

The Sylvie Robichaud-Rebecca Atkinson partnership which was quickly becoming an unstoppable powerhouse parted ways opening the door for some new blood which was welcome news for  Adams. Adams is bringing with her an extremely young front end and the one that sticks out is second Cathlia Ward who in 2013 was chosen as an alternate for the World Junior Curling Championships being selected by Corryn Brown. The team will enter the main event(according to my predictions anyway) with relative inexperience but it might be the youngest on the team in Ward that could be the calming influence for the veteran skip as she's dealt with pressure packed situations in the past. Officially they're my choice to get out of this montrosity otherwise known as relegation and for the record had I seeded them in the main field I would've sandwiched them in between Saskatchewan and P.E.I.

Skip:Melissa Adams
Third:Jennifer Armstrong
Second:Cathlia Ward
Lead:Katie Forward

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