Those Europeans love their relegation systems, especially in soccer, but their annual curling tournaments have it too. They’re divided into the A, B and C groups. How relegation works, if you don’t know: if you finish at the tail end of A or B, next year you fall one division down. Win your group and you get to advance up. If you’re a country new to curling, or (presumably) take a year off, you start out in C and work your way up. At the Group C level, you can probably see all types of skill levels and unfortunately a lot of high scoring games and blowouts. Still, it’s where the competition begins, and I love that kind of stuff.
The top two teams in each Group C will advance to next month’s Group B championships in Champery, Switzerland, which coincide with the Group A championships but they still must do well because last place teams will just get dropped back to Group C. Last year, for example, on the women’s side Belarus and Slovenia moved up from C to B, but Slovenia moved back down along with Spain. For the men, Wales and Romania advanced up, while Slovakia and Belgium replaced them.
The winning team in next month’s Group B goes on to play a team from Group A for a qualification spot in the World Curling Championships. So theoretically you can start out in Group C and qualify for the world championship in the same calendar year. That of course has never happened, but a team can dream.
This year’s ECC-C’s are from October 5-11 in Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. Note that for the most part, these are not the same team members that participate every year. I’m sure every country has a different selection process: either appointed by committee or they won a national tournament.
Women’s event (7 teams):
Croatia - They’ve been stuck in the C group since its inception in 2010 and routinely have been finishing with losing records.
Ireland - They won the inaugural Group C competition in 2010, but after being relegated back 2011, Ireland didn’t field a team for the last two seasons. I’ve also been informed that their fourth Katie Kerr is also a Los Angeles native and member of the Hollywood Curling Club.
The Netherlands - They didn’t field a team last year, but nearly qualified for Group B in 2012. However, there’s something to a host team advantage at this level.
Romania - They’ve only competed twice before in the ECCs: 2011 and 2012, and are 2-7 all-time in those events. Probably not a favorite to advance.
Slovakia - They got promoted to B in 2011, stayed there for a year but were relegated in 2012. Twice they have finished third in Group C, so they are historically a contender at this level.
Slovenia - The Slovenes began competing in 2011, earned a promotion out of C last year but finished last in the B pool, so here they are again. It’s the same team so they should do well again.
Spain - A 2-7 finish last year in Group B relegated the Spaniards. They have been competing in the ECCs since 2003 so this is their first Group C challenge.
Obviously I haven’t heard or watched any of these women play, so I’ll harbor a wild guess at the two teams that advance: let’s go with Spain and The Netherlands.
Men’s event (10 teams)
Belarus - They’ve played in Group C every year but 2011. Based on the last two years of results, they’re probably a middle-of-the-pack team.
Belgium - Belgian curling at the ECC has been around since 1988; they had a 10-year-hiatus then came back in 2005. But the program has fallen backwards and they were relegated last year and this is the first time they need to dig out of the C Group hole.
Bulgaria - They haven’t fielded a team since 2009, and were registered for Group B in 2010 but they never started any of their games. No idea if they didn’t show up, or forfeited, or what. Maybe they’ll play these games? Probably?
Iceland - The Icelanders’ first ECC was 2007 and since the formation of Group C, they’ve been trapped ever since. Last year they didn’t win a game in round-robin play.
Ireland - Eight years ago, Ireland qualified for the world championships. Now they’re in Group C. That’s a heck of a fall.
Israel - This is Israel’s first ever appearance at a curling world competition. They made their bonspiel debut last week at Winnipeg and even won a game against a top 200 WCT team. The team is comprised of Jewish Canadians, skipped by Adam Freilich who also skipped Team Quebec at the 2014 Canadian juniors. So they have experience, but now they’re entering the European competition at the lowest level. I like their chances a lot.
Luxembourg - It looks like the Luxembourgians stopped curling at the ECCs in 2003, then got a team back into the game in 2010, conveniently when Group C was necessary. They haven’t been close to pulling out of it, though - their best finish has been fifth.
Serbia - Another new-to-the-competition country, they finished third in last year’s Group C, their best finish since 2010.
Slovakia - The four Pitonaks had been playing in Group B for a few years, but last year a different team represented Slovakia and went 0-7, so this is the country’s first appearance in Group C.
Slovenia - Their ECC debut came in 2011 and in the last two years they had top-four finishes. They’re always right there.
In terms of predictions, I know it’s Israel’s first foray into world competition but they seem to be the most accomplished team. Heck, we’ll say Israel and Slovakia advance upward.
Big help to the WCF results database for storing much of this information.