October112014

European Curling Group C Championship results

We’ll start with the women. I had The Netherlands and Spain advancing out of this, and I was dang near right. The Netherlands did win the group with a 6-5 extra-end win over Slovakia in the 1-2 game. There’s always something to home ice advantage, especially in a field like this. It will be their first advancement out of Group C since 2010, when they were relegated from Group A to Group B and in the next year didn’t field a team.

Slovakia’s second chance came against Spain, who beat Slovenia in the 3-4 matchup. I was watching Zoetermeer’s stop-motion overhead camera in the final and, and Spain had a terrific draw to the four foot with their first skip stone, only to be topped by a Slovakian hit-and-roll further into the four foot. A desperation runback attempt didn’t work and Slovakia stole the silver medal game 4-3. So the Slovaks will return to the B Group after a one-year absence.

On the men’s side, Belgium was perceived to be one of the strongest teams in the field before, during and after the competition, so naturally they won Group C with a 7-5 win over Ireland to return to Group B without missing a year. 2013 was the first time they had been relegated down this far, so this was their first ever Group C competition.

The other team that advanced, Israel, hadn’t played in a Group C either, but then again this was their first ever European/world appearance in any form. Israel struggled to begin the round robin with a 1-3 start but played their finest curling down the stretch, winning the 3-4 game against Slovakia and controlling the silver medal game against Ireland to essentially end the competition on a seven-game winning streak. They did an interview with Yahoo! Sports last month, if you’re interested in reading about their goal to qualify for the 2018 Olympics.

So that’s it. The Dutch/Slovakian women and the Belgian/Israeli men will play in the Group B championships in Champery, Switzerland next month over Thanksgiving.

October92014

American curling update: some points!

Last weekend:

On the women’s side, Nina Roth and Aileen Sormunen faced some tough competition at the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic. Roth had two nice wins against Crystal Webster and Sijia Liu, but couldn’t shut the door against some of the lower-ranked British Columbia teams and finished 2-3 in their pool. Team Sormunen went 1-4 in their pool, with the lone win coming against Satsuki Fujisawa, a Japanese team that made the semifinals. The event itself was won by the Japanese Olympic team Ayumi Ogasawara over Val Sweeting in a bit of an upset.

For the men, Team Brady Clark earned some points at the Prestige event, by virtue of an eighth-place finish. They had to beat Team Chris Plys to get there, which is some rather blatant America-on-America curling crime. They gathered 1.045 WCT points, speaking them into the top 30 for the time being, but no cash.

While Plys was bounced out early, they did post a win against Team Dezura who ended up winning the event, so it’s at least a quality win, even if they don’t keep track of such things.

Team McCormick, the “B Team,” was in Ingersoll, Ontario, winning their pool with a 3-0 record and losing in the quarterfinals, but grabbed two WCT points.

The big world event was the Swiss Cup Basel, won surprisingly by Tom Brewster. They didn’t look great in the season-opening Baden Masters, but only lost once (to #4 Thomas Ulsrud) and won their other seven matches, including some against #6 Niklas Edin and his ex-team #8 David Murdoch. Their ranking jumped 13 points to #22 in the world.

This weekend:

There is one North American team at the Women’s Masters Basel: Team Roth. The 24-team, triple-knockout format begins on Friday and they draw Team McManus of Sweden. It would be a victory of this team can pull off one or two wins, but I don’t expect them to cash in. Some of these matches (not necessarily USA’s) will be webstreamed.

Most of the Canadian teams will be at the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic in Calgary. A few Japanese/Chinese/Korean teams will be present as well.

The rest of the familiar US faces will be at the St. Paul Cashspiel. Sormunen, McCormick, Potter and Christensen are some of the more prominent teams squaring off.

On the men’s side. The Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic (I love these names) in Edmonton has the largest purse, and it’s mostly Midwest Canadian teams with a couple of international names in there. No USA teams to speak of. The Stu Sells Toronto Tankard will have three American squads: Plys, McCormick and Shuster. I don’t know how they determine byes, but Shuster got one, and the two High Performance teams didn’t, so nyah nyah.

The remainder of the USA men’s teams from the Wisconsin-Minnesota area will be at the St. Paul Cashspiel as well.

October32014

European Curling Group C Championship preview

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. 

October12014

USA curling update: Forget it, Jake, it’s Canada

We had two large spiels last weekend. One wasStockholm Ladies Cup in Sweden  where Margaretha Sigfridsson defeated Rachel Homan and reminding everyone that championships still go through them. The Point Optical Classic in Saskatoon featured some of the world’s best, with Brad Jacobs looking their fashionable ripped dominant selves, but it was Mike McEwen defeating John Epping in the finals.

Here’s how the American teams did in Canada:

Erika Brown: the lone USA women’s team in action went 2-3 in Kitchener, starting well but ending the weekend by losing three close ones. 

Chris Plys: For their first appearance this season at the Point Optical Classic, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect, so going 2-3 may have been about right. They had the misfortune of being pitted against two top 10 teams and just gave up too many big ends. 

Brady Clark: They also played in the Point Optical Classic, their second spiel in Canada, and started well with a top 50 win over Jeff Hartung then faced even stiffer competition and couldn’t keep up. 

Bret Jackson: I have actually curled with a few guys on this team and it’s very cool to see them get into the competitive game. As it stands, right now the Michigan-based team is not on the same level as seasoned competitive curlers. In Kitchener, they were close to winning one game but were routed in the other two. 

Coming up this weekend:

The Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic in Vernon, BC will have four USA teams present: on the women’s side both High Performance teams, Roth and Sormunen. (Also I learned that Nina Spatola got married this summer, congratulations, and is now Nina Roth, so update your curling rosters accordingly.) It’s a deep field with not only Carey and Sweeting and Kelly Scott’s new team, but a smattering of really good teams from China/Japan/Korea. On the men’s event, Clark and Plys will be in their second straight weekends of activity. Heck, they’re already in Canada and Vernon’s on the way back from Saskatoon, right? The field’s not as strong as the women’s, but Jim Cotter and Brendan Bottcher will have teams there, and Morozumi from Japan might actually be the best team there.

The Swiss Cup Basel will also be an interesting event: 13 countries will be represented, but nothing from Canada or the USA. As a Curling Champions Tour event, this should likely have some good webstream coverage, if you’re up in the wee hours. 

There is also a European Group C Championship beginning Sunday in Norway … I may do a preview of that later this week.

September162014

USA Curling Update: Brady Clark Goes 1-3 In Edmonton

It was a light weekend on the WCT circuit for Americans: 2012 USA champion Brady Clark’s team was the only one participating for points. The HDF Insurance Shoot-Out in Edmonton was a triple-knockout tournament, and they started off well with a 5-3 win over Thomas Usselman, then lost their next three games, all in the eighth or extra ends, twice losing with hammer in the final end.

A 1-3 record didn’t yield any WCT points, but it was a strong showing. They were in a position to win every game they played. It’s tough to win in Alberta — 7 of the top 50 WCT teams hail from there. Based out of Seattle, Clark is well-positioned to play teams from Western Canada, stay high in the ranking and still contend for the US title.

This weekend: There are four events on the WCT tour, with the Shorty Jenkins Classic being the biggest one, by total prize money, to date this year. No American teams will be present, but tons of big namesJacobs, Edin, Murdoch, Howard, Stoughton, Gushue, De Cruz, Michel—are in the draw. The women’s side will feature Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan, Eve Muirhead and Sherry Middaugh among a group of 12.

The Twin Cities Open in Blaine, Minnesota, obviously features a ton of American teams. The women’s event has the deeper set of familiar names: all three High Performance teams (Spatola, Sormunen, Christensen) along with Cassie Potter and Allison Pottinger. The men’s event will have the HP junior team (Stephen Dropkin) and an assortment of competitive Minnesota teams, some in the WCT top 100 (Peter Stolt, Mike Farbelow). The points, they’re up for grabs.

The Cloverdale Cash Spiel in Surrey, BC will include Team Sieg, a senior team out of Seattle, in a pool of mostly British Columbians and one Taiwanese team.

And the schedule also lists a cashspiel in Saskatoon, but I can’t find out a dang thing out about it.

September92014

Stu Sells Oakville Tankard: How the Americans did

Last month we were introduced to the USA high performance teams, as well as “the others.” While I was surprised at Plys being the skip of the A-team, I understand it. He’s probably the most marketable curler this country has for the next four years, but I also understand that based on curling ability, there are other teams out there who can compete and be just as good.

This weekend was the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard in Ontario, the first big curling event in Canada. A total of 60 teams (30 men, 30 women) competed, mostly from Ontario, but a couple of those suicidal European teams found their way up. The USA also was represented four ways: teams Shuster and Eigner on the men, and Brown and McCormick on the women. None of these are the high performance squads, but a couple of them stood out.

We’ll start with Eigner, a team curiously out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fort Wayne didn’t even have a curling club 10 years ago but apparently they got enough guys to form a whole team that could compete in the Stu Sells. That’s pretty incredible. (I am guessing they curled previously.) They didn’t win a game (having to play the likes of Shuster and silver medallists David Murdoch) but it’s finally something to see Indiana field a competitive curling team.

Erika Brown’s squad went 2-2 but didn’t reach the playoffs. They did rout Team Flaxey, who won last year’s Ontario province, by a score of 9-1.

Deb McCormick’s team went an impressive 3-1 including a wild win over Sherry Middaugh, qualifying for the playoffs before being (I would consider) upset by Erin Morrissey on the final stones, 5-4. I’ve always liked McCormick but I had no clue how this new unknown team would fare. So far, a good first impression.

But I’d say Shuster had the finest weekend. They, too, went 3-1 with their lone round-robin loss being a two-stone defeat to David Murdoch. In the playoffs they were able to beat reigning Ontario champion Greg Balsdon before being soundly defeated by eventual Stu Sells champion Mike McEwen.

(It should be pointed out that the women’s champion of the Stu Sells was Silvana Tirinzoni, who beat Alina Paetz in an all-Switzerland final, because Switzerland is the new Canada. Bow to them.)

Next up on the WCT is the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out in Alberta. Again, it’s mostly Albertan teams with some Swiss and Swedish traveling fools. The lone American team will be Brady Clark from Seattle, another likable non-HP team. I’ll be interested in how they stack up against some of Alberta’s finest.

September12014

2014 Baden Masters

Hallelujah, I got to watch curling online in August. Admittedly it didn’t feel right with the A/C on at home.

Thomas Ulsrud of Norway took home the championship in Baden. They went undefeated and have been unstoppable since dropping a heartbreaker in the Sochi playoff play-in. They didn’t see much resistance in Baden, taking down Brewster and Drozdov easily, then edging Edin in the semis and surviving against the De Cruz rink.

Sven Michel, who won this thing a few times in the past, made the semifinals and looked okay but they weren’t even the best Swiss team there.

Peter De Cruz’s team looked terrific. In the quarterfinals they put up a six-ender (!) against Team Murdoch, and made short work of Edin. When I was watching, their fourth Benoit Schwarz made nice bailout shots, and one of the biggest reasons they lost the championship game was an unfortunate pick in the sixth end, having to settle for one instead of two points, losing 6-5.

One other score of note … Mikel Unanue of Spain nearly beat Steve Laycock of Canada, holding a 4-1 lead halfway home, then Laycock laid down a 4-ender and eventually won 6-5. When you’re an outsider team, these round robins tend to be stacked against you, so they had three teams in the WCT top 30 and didn’t stand much of a chance. But they almost had one. Now I pretty much have to keep an eye on them for the season.

August282014

Look! A live curling tournament!

The Baden Masters in Switzerland starts Friday morning and goes through this weekend. It’s billed as the first event on the World Curling Tour, and some games will stream live on YouTube. There are no American teams in the spiel, and 19 of the 20 are European. Much of the field is comprised of Swiss cashspielers and others you haven’t heard of. Then you’ve got your major players: Edin, Ulsrud, Laycock, the Scots, and some others.

I don’t know how much I’ll get to watch, and it’s not like the results will indicate much since many teams have seen little ice time this summer. But I’ll be interested in the results of a few teams:

• Team Edin (Sweden): The bronze medalist in Sochi has a whole new team. Basically the Swedish A- and B- teams joined forces. Edin’s old team started slow and finished strong. Eriksson’s team had a good year too. Maybe this will work?

• Team Brewster (Scotland): After being exiled to the bench during the Olympics, Brewster’s old team now remains with David Murdoch, and he’s got a new bunch to curl with. Young and unproven, but at least Brewster is back as a skip again.

• Team Michel (Switzerland): Sven Michel’s team had a pretty disappointing Olympics. Let’s see if they can bounce back.

• Team Unanue (Spain): I didn’t even know Spain had a competitive curling team. Turns out they do! They played in the Group B of last year’s European Championships (as did the Netherlands, who has a team as well) and went 2-5. If they get shut out, then hopefully they get better, but this is a good chance to get noticed.

Here are the round robin pools. They seem evenly-distributed. No idea who is the favorite, but I’ll take Michel to win, because he’s done it twice before.

August182014

The USA High Performance teams (and the others)

The High Performance Camp isn’t until this weekend, and I thought that was when the HP teams were going to be assembled. But tipped off by the CurlingZone forums, the World Curling Tour already has these teams in their database:

Men’s A
Skip: Chris Plys
Vice: Joe Polo
Second: Jared Zezel
Lead: Colin Hufman
Alternate: Ryan Brunt

Men’s B
Skip: Heath McCormick
Vice: Craig Brown
Second: Kroy Nernberger
Lead: Sean Beighton
Alternate: Alex Leichter

Women’s A
Skip: Nina Spatola
Vice: Jamie Sinclair
Second: Becca Hamilton
Lead: Tabitha Peterson

Women’s B
Skip: Aileen Sormunen
Third: Tara Peterson
Second: Vicky Persinger
Lead: Monica Walker

[looks at my women’s predictions] Hey, pretty close!
[looks at my men’s predictions] [burns everything]

As good as he is, I’m super surprised that Plys was named a skip. His frontend is a good selection and pretty much what I imagined. The big shock was Heath McCormick (Plys’s skip at the end of last season) not being on the A team. But him coupled with Craig Brown could work out.

As for the women’s teams … I don’t have any qualms with the picks. I like Spatola, she proved herself last year and didn’t get the chance to represent the USA at the world’s due to the new points system. Jamie Sinclair is an interesting young pick to vice for the A squad, but we’ll see how they do.

Will these “A” teams be the ones who represent the USA at worlds? They are obviously the front-runners but there are still the non-HP-funded teams who can still accrue sponsorship money and play a tough schedule. The WCT includes the following notable USA teams:

MEN
Dean Gemmell, Bill Stopera, Calvin Weber, Martin Sather
John Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, Trevor Host
Brady Clark, Greg Persinger, Matt Birklid, Phil Tilker

WOMEN
Cassie Potter, Courtney George, Amy Lou Anderson, Theresa Hoffoss
Erika Brown, Alex Carlson, Rebecca Funk, Kendall Behm
Deb McCormick, Brittany Falk, Emilia Juocys, Stephanie Senneker
Patti Lank, Maureen Stolt, Anna Bauman, Madisson Lank

As you can imagine, this is a mishmash of broken up teams that found each other. George/Gemmell/Stopera/Sather broke up entirely and found new teams. The fact that Shuster and George are teammates now is wildly interesting; that may be my new favorite team, even though I have never heard of their lead.

For the women, Erika Brown is not quitting after all; in fact she formed a super young team of talented twentysomethings. McCormick is also seeming to make a run at it, and the Potter rink really put some good skips together. So the High Performance teams have the money; but there’s still some contenders on the fringes.

The WCT season starts in a few weeks and honestly I don’t know how much time I’ll have to cover it, but we’ll just see where the Tumblr takes us.

August12014

USA named their high performance curlers

Here’s the list. The men’s group has 10, the women’s has eight, and there are 11 junior curlers. 

We’ll start with the women: Nina Spatola, Becca Hamilton and Tara Peterson, the nucleus who won the 2014 USA championship, were named. Their lead Sophie Brorson didn’t make the cut, Team Pottinger lead Tabitha Peterson (Tara’s sister) did. It sounds like they will form teams next month, but I I think there’s your A team. That would mean the other four — Aileen Sormunen, Jamie Sinclair, Monica Walker and Vicky Persinger — would be the B team.

In terms of the athlete pool, I didn’t see many surprises. Deb McCormick was in the running and she has been the face of USA curling for over a decade, but I guess it was time for to let the younger crowd take over.

On the men’s side … relax, Internet, there is no John Shuster. While that saddens me, the 10 they did pick can bring it:

  • Four ex-Olympians: Joe Polo, Jared Zezel, Craig Brown and Chris Plys
  • Twothree with world championship experience in Heath McCormick, Ryan Brunt and Sean Beighton
  • Rounding out the group is Colin Hufman, Alex Leichter and Kroy Nernberger.

Just a hunch, but McCormick and Brown will be the A- and B- skips in that order. I like the idea of teaming up McCormick with Plys, Zezel and Hufman, with Polo as the alternate. I would have liked to see John Landsteiner selected, not only due to my affinity for lefties but he is a damn good lead. The next best choice is Hufman or Brunt, with Hufman probably winning the tiebreak having been McCormick’s former teammate. That would make the B team Brown, Nernberger, Leichter, Brunt and Beighton. But they’ll sort all that out in due time.

Personally I didn’t see a problem with the old way of doing business, which was more democratic and inclusive. (Technically any team of players not picked can compete, they’re just not going to get the USCA funding.) But the results weren’t there so a change had to be made, I guess.

The whole point of this selection process was to get USA’s ranking up so that they are not in danger of failing to qualify for the 2018 Olympics. Of course, if they can groom a team in 2014 to be excellent in four years, then they’ll do it. But they also want to be as good as they can in the 2015 world championships in Halifax (men’s) Sapporo, Japan (women’s) and Tallinn, Estonia (juniors).

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