On a Wrenching Defeat, Big Dave, and the Wild Card Thing
Lots and lots of stuff!
I don’t generally do these sorts of posts, where I just talk about some of the things on my mind, but I’ve got a few things I’d love to discuss that maybe don’t deserve a full post, but deserve some attention.
The Wrench…It Was Golden
One of the best events on Tour takes place at both a time and location you wouldn’t expect: the end of January, in a former tennis ball fuzz factory in Tempe, AZ. Karsten Sturmay, who realized about halfway through the cashspiel season that they may have a chance to sneak into the last Wild Card spot at the Brier, upped their schedule of events and by capping it off with a win in Arizona and 26 WCT points, beat John Epping for the final spot by less than 5 points. Team Sturmay had an awesome year—easily the best Karsten has ever played from what I’ve seen and Kyle Doering is also showing why he’s been one of the more unheralded players on Tour the last half-decade—but it does lack some sense that the event that put them over the top was an event Team Epping wasn’t able to play in due to Ontario provincial playdowns being at the same time.
There have been calls for universal provincial playdown dates for a while. I know that’s difficult as different provincial associations have different needs and arena rentals and such can’t always be the easiest thing to pin down. But you have to think one thing the new Players’ Association will want to look at is a flatter schedule that makes more sense. Way too many weekends are running big events at the same time, splitting the competition and the points, and it’s hurting the sport. That becomes even more evident during playdown season, as provincial playdowns run for nearly a month, on four separate weekends, and having a key event on the calendar with that many points up for grabs in the middle of it seems a little unfair.
Of course, the points tabulate for an entire season and you can just say “well then Team Epping should’ve played better!” and on some level, obviously that’s true. But when presented with such a bold example of how exactly a single tournament can change one team’s fortunes and how not every team has the ability to enter that tournament, I wonder if this is the best system we’ve got going here. Again, this is taking nothing away from Team Sturmay—they crushed it. I just can’t help but feel for the teams who couldn’t make the trip to the desert work out.
Plus, there have been many calls with the streaming success of a lot of these provincial events to return to the days when Sportsnet or TSN aired a bunch of provincial finals on the same day. I think you might have an easier time getting these networks back on board if you have EVERY provincial playdown being contested the same week/end. My bold idea: stagger the starts so you have finals on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The provinces that have fewer teams competing and thus, a shorter event, could wrap on Friday, and it would give some shine to those that have truly NEVER gotten it—New Brunswick, PEI, the Territories—and then the mid-range provinces can wrap Saturday, and the big boys can wrap Sunday. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t love to curl up on the couch all weekend and watch some 10-12 provincial finals in a row. I know I would.
Lots has been made and said about this hiring and so I don’t really have much to add outside of one thing I think Dave HAS to nail down: there NEEDS to be a better pipeline for young Canadian players to get into and stay in the men’s and women’s game. The most concerning trend in Canadian curling over the last decade has been the complete unwillingness of top teams to bring young curlers into the fold. We used to grow this game because we trusted that the top teams would eventually bring in the top young players to continue to bring them along.
One needn’t look much further than the two top teams of the 2010 quad, Howard and Martin, for evidence of that. Both Kevin and Glenn were well into their 40s, well-regarded as two of the best skips on earth (and to ever play) and combined, brought in 5 curlers in their mid-20s to round out their lineups. This past quad switch paints a much more dire picture, as the top 10 teams in Canada by CTRS rankings right now consist almost exclusively of curlers who were on teams in last year’s top 10. There are exceptions—the aforementioned Karsten Sturmay has finally hit his wave, young Ryan Wiebe is making some noise in Manitoba, and Aaron Sluchinski is finally playing a very dedicated schedule and brought Jeremy Harty along for the ride—but as far as Olympic-level teams go…it’s all the same dudes. The women’s side is a bit more flexible, which is good, though 5 of the top 6 teams are completely comprised of players who were also in the top 5 to finish last season (outside of Mackenzie Zacharias joining Jennifer Jones—but she finished 7th).
And I don’t blame these teams—the sponsorship money and the lure of an Olympic Gold Medal is too much to pass up. So there needs to be some incentive for these good, young players to be brought along other than one tournament a year (The U25 NextGen Classic)* because right now, the model that a lot of these good young junior players have to follow is graduating to the men’s/women’s game and then getting their lunch handed to them for a decade and that’s not helping anyone. Since its inception, the sport in Canada has been completely reliant on players who are willing to spend copious amounts of time and their own money to get better. What happens when that model no longer works? It could be a precipitous decline, and fast.
Also worrying? We could see a mass exodus from the game after this quad. If you look at the current men’s top 5—Dunstone, Gushue, Bottcher, Koe, Carruthers—how many of those players are playing in the fall of 2026? Of those 20, there’s a distinct possibility we see 12-15 of them done with the sport at the highest level after this quad. And that’s not counting the big-name veterans outside the top 10: Mike McEwen, Ryan Fry, Brent Laing, Glenn Howard, Darren Moulding, Jim Cotter, Brent Pierce, Steve Laycock, and the list marches on. Where’s the talent that’s going to replace them coming from? I think that’s Dave’s biggest challenge, and I’m interested to see how he tackles it.
*- there’s also the Best of the West, but Matt Dunstone, Dustin Mikush, and Rylan Kleiter started that independent of any governing body.
The Damn Wild Card
I tweeted this on Sunday:
Not to boost my own program, but I do genuinely think this is what’s been holding Curling Canada back from actually making the switch to a Canada Cup or similar event qualifying a team for Worlds. That and pressure from the Member Associations, but I think there are just too many current curlers who grew up dreaming of the Brier and Scotties that taking that W away would be crushing. If they change it, eventually over time we’d see teams just understand the Brier/Scotties is different and that would wane, but in the initial period…it’ll be rough.
That said, Paul Sweeney had one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard for a potential solution for everybody:
I can’t see too many teams turning down the Wild Card in this scenario, but it is a great way to put the onus back on the teams. How much does winning your province ACTUALLY mean to you? It also solves the issue of provincial finals meaning something but maybe not enough when both teams know they’re already in. The only issue I see here is still that Member Association pressure. This year, 2 of the 3 Wild Card slots for the ladies went to Manitoba teams and Kerri Einarson was already qualified through the defending champion berth. Pretty tough to tell an organizing committee in a small town spending up valuable time and resources, “hey we’ve got your provincial Scotties right here, but Einarson, Jones, and Lawes are all not playing it.” That’s your biggest hurdle right there.
Speaking of the Scotties, this Scotties field? Wow. Tough to predict. So many good teams, a perfect confluence of a deserving defending champion with all the “right” provincial winners and three great Wild Cards. I’ve talked to a few top-level curlers and no one knows what to predict here, with basically everyone echoing the same sentiment: “well, any one of like 5 or 6 teams could win this thing.” I agree, but I also think Rachel Homan feels like a team of destiny here. Don’t know why, just my gut. Can’t wait to watch!
I’m glad to see Joanne Courtney pick up the Scotties role after Cheryl Bernard departed TSN last season. She was great at the Olympics and only got better as the weeks went on. Looking forward to seeing how she meshes with the vets Vic and Russ.
Since the last time I posted, two great episodes of Way Inside! came out, one with Anna Hasselborg and one with Tyler Tardi. Both were very candid and very funny, with Anna telling a great story about her and Agnes sneaking into an Edmonton Oilers game and Tyler telling me about his socks superstition. I’ve been having so much fun with this format and can’t wait to get more episodes going. I also am going to be featuring a few people coming up that may not be household names, but are people that I think are very interesting in the curling world and more people should know about. So stay tuned! And thanks to everyone who has listened so far and sent nice words. It means a lot.
Lastly…I dunno what they’re doing in Newfoundland but the track record of their team pictures is outstanding.
These kids whip ass.