Jennifer Jones in action at the BOOST National in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

8 Ends: Provincial playdowns lead off busy stretch

January 9, 2018, 8:26 PM

Everything is happening in curling.

Well, maybe not everything but it sure feels like it right now, hyperbole aside.

Fresh from the holiday break, it’s full swing ahead entering a busy stretch of the season leading off with provincial playdowns ramping up from coast to coast plus we’re only a week away from the Meridian Canadian Open. Oh yeah, there’s also the Continental Cup and Canadian junior championships coming up.

It only gets more intense from here on out with the Winter Olympics, Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Tim Hortons Brier, world championships plus the home stretch of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season still to come.

That’s a lot even for Eight Ends so let’s take it slow and break down what you need to know this week.


1st End: Manitoba Scotties preview

Jennifer Jones has won the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts seven times as a skip although last year’s women’s provincial curling championship had her trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. Team Robertson stunned Team Jones in the semifinal to eliminate the 2014 Olympic gold medallists. It was the first time Jones entered provincials and did not win the title since 2004.

Team Jones regrouped winning the prestigious Players’ Championship and added two more major championships at the Masters and BOOST National in the fall. Although they ended the Roar of the Rings on a down note, third Kaitlyn Lawes secured a spot in mixed doubles at the Winter Olympics with John Morris.

Speaking of Team Robertson, they’ve had a strong tour season, winning the Atkins Curling Supplies Classic and qualified for a spot in the Meridian Canadian Open next week as well. If they could upset Jones once, why not again?

Another potential spoiler is Team Birchard, who beat Jones twice en route to the Colonial Square Ladies Classic title in September and has made it to the final four at the past two provincials.

Team Einarson, winners of this event in 2016, captured the Tour Challenge Tier 2 championship in September earning a promotion to the Masters where they finished runner-up to Jones. Einarson should be a contender but has struggled against Jones in the past (head-to-head record is 15-0 for Jones including the 2015 Manitoba Scotties final) and that could be a problem should they meet again.

The hunt for the buffalo crest (or is it a bison?) begins Wednesday in Killarney, Man. Watch the semifinal and final live Sunday on Sportsnet and Sportsnet ONE.


2nd End: Alberta Scotties preview

After holding the Team Canada auto-berth last year, Team Carey rejoins the stacked field in Alberta. Carey was runner-up in the Tour Challenge Tier 2 division in September but has come a long way since working her way back into the elite level in time for the BOOST National where her team reached the semifinals. Team Carey was also one win away from representing Canada at the Winter Olympics falling to Team Homan in the Roar of the Rings final last month following a hot streak winning eight straight games to start.

Based on overall play this season, Carey should be the favourite but not so fast. Let’s not forget Team Sweeting won the Tour Challenge Tier 1 at the start of the season. Sweeting is a three-time provincial winner but has finished runner-up the past two seasons. A slow 0-3 start at the Roar of the Rings put her team behind the 8-ball early and ultimately finished out of the playoffs at 4-4. Sweeting also just finished second at the Canadian mixed doubles trials with Brad Gushue.

Team Scheidegger has also been making noise on tour reaching the quarterfinals at the Masters and the final at the BOOST National. Team Kleibrink stunned the field to win it last year and could do it again.

There there’s Team Rocque, who missed provincials last year with skip Kelsey Rocque and second Taylor McDonald off representing Canada at the Winter Universiade and claiming gold. They’ve picked up a tour title this season winning the Curl Mesabi Classic title in December. Interesting to note the event website and CurlingZone have third Laura Crocker listed as the skip with Rocque still at fourth stones.

The action begins Wednesday in Medicine Hat, Alta. Watch the semifinal and final live Sunday on Sportsnet and Sportsnet ONE.


3rd End: Ontario Scotties preview

It’s wide open in Ontario with Team Homan not returning to defend the title. Such was the case four years ago as well with Homan holding the Team Canada auto-berth. Team Flaxey emerged victorious then in 2014 and is back here for another chance at the championship. While Flaxey is the highest ranked among this field on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit, they’ve had a disappointing tour season and had a rough 1-7 run at the Roar of the Rings.

Team Tippin also had a tough go at the Canadian Olympic curling trials finishing 2-6 but the club has won two World Curling Tour titles this season taking the KW Fall Classic and Stu Sells Toronto Tankard.

Team Harrison finished runner-up to Homan last season and should be another threat to contend. Also, don’t count out Team Middaugh with skip Sherry Middaugh having won the Ontario title five times although the last time was 10 years ago.


4th End: Northern Ontario Scotties preview

The three-team tournament is really a two-horse race between Team Fleury and Team McCarville (sorry Team Croisier).

Home-ice advantage could be a factor for Fleury with the event being held at their club, Idylwylde G&CC. Fleury is ranked higher on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit and captured a tour title earlier this season at the Gord Carroll Curling Classic.

The case for McCarville appears stronger though as they made it through the Road to the Roar pre-trials (top-seed Fleury did not) and narrowly missed the playoffs at the Roar of the Rings finishing just on the outside looking in with a 4-4 round-robin record. McCarville hasn’t won a WCT title this season but was runner-up at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in September. Head-to-head history also works in McCarville’s favour as she has beaten Fleury for the title in the past two seasons and went on to finish second at the national Scotties in 2016 and fourth last year.


5th End: Scotties Tournament of Hearts lineup

With the defending champ Team Homan heading to the Winter Olympics, runner-up Team Englot of Manitoba will return to the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts in the Team Canada auto-berth spot.

Women’s playdowns wrap up Sunday although the top two teams based on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings will face off Jan. 26 for another shot to qualify via the all-new wildcard entry to complete the 16-team field.

The national women’s curling championship takes place Jan. 27 – Feb. 4 in Penticton, B.C. The winner will represent Canada at the world championship running March 17-25 in North Bay, Ont.

Team Skip/Playdown dates
Canada Michelle Englot
Alberta Jan. 10-14
B.C. Kesa Van Osch
Manitoba Jan. 10-14
New Brunswick Sylvie Robichaud
Newfoundland & Labrador Stacie Curtis
Northern Ontario Jan. 10-14
Northwest Territories Kerry Galusha
Nova Scotia Jan. 9-14
Nunavut TBA
Ontario Jan. 10-14
P.E.I. Robyn MacPhee
Quebec Jan. 9-14
Saskatchewan Sherry Anderson
Yukon Chelsea Duncan
Wildcard Jan. 26

6th End: Tim Hortons Brier lineup

While we’re discussing playdowns, here’s a look at how the men’s side is shaping up for the Tim Hortons Brier, March 3-11 in Regina.

The winner of the Brier will represent Canada at the world championship in Las Vegas (March 31 – April 8) although first Team Howard will play Brazil’s Team Mello in a best-of-five Americas Zone Challenge this weekend during the Continental Cup in London, Ont., to ensure Canada has a spot. A quick refresher: The Americas zone has just two spots at the world championship and with the host (U.S.) guaranteed one, Canada was challenged for the second despite being the reigning champion.

Team Skip/Playdown dates
Canada Brad Gushue
Alberta Jan. 31 – Feb. 4
B.C. Jan. 31 – Feb. 4
Manitoba Jan. 30 – Feb. 4
New Brunswick Feb. 7-11
Newfoundland & Labrador Jan. 29 – Feb. 4
Northern Ontario Feb. 7-11
Northwest Territories Feb. 7-12
Nova Scotia Jan. 9-14
Nunavut Dave St. Louis
Ontario Jan. 31 – Feb. 4
P.E.I. Eddie MacKenzie
Quebec Feb. 4-11
Saskatchewan Jan. 31 – Feb. 4
Yukon Jan. 11-14
*Wildcard March 2

* – Wildcard game will be played between the top two teams based on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings who did not win their playdowns.


7th End: Meridian Canadian Open right around the corner

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season resumes at this time next week with the Meridian Canadian Open at the Encana Arena in Camrose, Alta.

Sixteen of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world will compete in the fourth tournament and third major of our season. This will be the final opportunity to see Olympic-bound teams such as Canada’s Team Koe and Team Homan compete before the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In case you missed the news Monday, there will be a couple lineup changes with Steve Laycock subbing at skip on Team Bottcher and Matt Dunstone filling in at third on Team Morris.

Full tournament and weekend passes plus single-draw tickets are available for purchase at Camrosegsoc.goigniter.com or by calling 780-678-2868. Television coverage begins Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.


8th End: Last week for Princess Elite 10 early bird deal

Following the Meridian Canadian Open is the Princess Auto Elite 10 running March 15-18 at Winnipeg’s St. James Civic Centre.

The tournament package gives you access to each and every draw and is available right now for a special early bird price at Elite10.goigniter.com. Don’t delay as this offer expires Jan. 16. Single-draw tickets will be available after that date.

The Princess Auto Elite 10 features the top 10 men’s teams of the season competing under match play rules where teams attempt to win the most ends per game to secure the victory.

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