On Line Calling, the Swedes, and Mixed Doubles Rankings
It's the second mailbag of the season...
It’s time for Mailbag #2 of the 2023-24 season, and it’s clear things are starting to happen in the curling world, as I got a ton more questions than I did for Mailbag #1. I’ll try to get to as many as I can, and of course, my paid subscribers get first dibs on questions. If you want to become a paid subscriber to support me, get video versions of every newsletter, and get the first crack at mailbag questions, click this button:
Ok, on with the questions!
Someone asked me about this shot on Twitter as well, and I guess to answer your first question, it really depends. Obviously the role of both players is to call line, but I think most teams generally tend to defer to the player in the house on line calls. It can vary and sometimes is as simple as “who is yelling louder”, but while I can’t speak to Team Homan specifically, as a career lead, I generally listened to the person in the house.
I think also that when you play on a team with people for a while, you tend to learn their tendencies with line-calling and whether you can trust them or not. Again, not making any reference to Team Homan here, but I think sometimes you would know if maybe your skip would panic a little early as the thrower and so you would defer to the person in the house, or vice versa. Some players also have a better eye for hit angles so you might listen more closely for them instead.
I watched this shot back and the reality is that Tracy probably got the call right, as putting a broom down early into a rock’s trajectory to try to make it curl probably won’t actually make it curl. Especially on swingy Grand Slam ice, you likely want the rock to begin its back half of the parabola before you start knifing it to get the desired effect. Rachel knows this too, and was likely just wanting the rock to curl/preparing Emma and Sarah for when that moment arrived. Maybe Tracy could have had them on it a touch earlier but I don’t think it’s as simple as “if they had started sweeping for curl earlier, it would for sure have missed the corner guard.”
This is probably down to the person, but I’d say the short answer is probably no but the long answer is probably yes with some caveats? For me personally, I don’t really love club curling. What always drew me into curling was the high-level strategy of the game and that requires high-level shotmaking, and most of the time, you don’t get that at a club level. Would other curlers who have played at a high level before be satisfied with that? Possibly. I just wouldn’t want to play an entire season to try and pay it off at the club championships/nationals where the skill level might be higher.
Ultimately I do think we may get to a place where the Brier/Scotties revert back to an “amateur” format and there’s a separate tournament for the “pros” to go to worlds. That’s a story for a whole other column I’ll probably write soon, and while I think it leads to some short-term pain for TSN/the current pros, it’ll ultimately be the best solution for the health of the game in Canada.
It is WAY too early. The men’s side of things still feels like a very clear triumvirate at the top for me with Gushue, Bottcher, and Dunstone. I haven’t seen the results and team chemistry from the teams underneath them to believe they will be challenged, but there’s two years for me to be proven wrong. Of that mix, I think I favour Bottcher right now. It’s always hard to bet against Brad Gushue at any tournament but Brad will be 45 in 2025, he’s had hip problems, and he just went to the last Olympics with basically this same lineup. We’ve never seen anyone repeat as the Canadian Olympic rep because it’s just so hard to do it. The truth is though, I could see any of those three win Canada and win gold.
On the women’s side for me it’s a clear top two in Homan and Einarson, with a pack of about 5 teams chasing them that could surprise. The women’s side always feels a bit more tenuous and we’ve seen surprise winners (Bernard, Kleibrink) and surprise finalists (like…all of them? Except maybe Kleibrink in 09 and Scott in 05) so it feels like anything could happen and you wouldn’t be shocked to see Jones/Lawes/Cameron/Black/McCarville/whoever make a run. Right now, I’d take Homan. Einarson has yet to make a final in a 4-person event where she wears the Maple Leaf and the wheels came off in the last Trials where she was the favourite going in. Tracy is coming off of the last final, Rachel is hungry to avenge her previous Olympic disappointments, and of course there’s always recency bias involved and Rachel has been the better team this season for me.
We talking both sides at the same tournament? Probably a long way away from that. Just too many Canadian teams still, despite what some keyboard warriors would have you believe. I’d need a math whiz to figure out the exact odds, but at the National (where headlines were made because only one Canadian team made the playoffs on the men’s side), the field was 7/16 Canadian teams for both the men and women. With half the field making the playoffs and nearly half the fields being Canadian, it’s pretty hard to have them all miss.
Could we see a Slam where on one side it’s all international though? Certainly. Could happen this year. Almost did!
Don’t see how anyone could hate them. They don’t detract from the broadcast in any way. I’m often listening to the sweepers communicate to give me a sense of how quick the ice is and I’m often not paying attention at all to what the hog time ends up being because I can see the rock at the hog line on my TV and can usually tell what the weight is. But for people who like it, why not have it?
The rude answer to this question is because Gustav Eskilsson didn’t end up being very good (I kid. They did try to make him the #2 for a while there but it’s hard when Niklas is so good). The more polite answer is two factors. A Swedish curling history lesson, if you will:
Niklas absorbed all of the up-and-coming men’s teams. Oskar Eriksson was a World Junior silver medalist and Universiade champ as a skip and the clear #2 behind Niklas when Niklas’ former team of Kraupp/Lindberg/Kjell all decided to retire in 2014. Oskar was playing with Christoffer Sundgren at the time (fun fact: Oskar actually made the worlds in 2014 as a 23 year-old) and brought him along, and Rasmus was the top junior skip in Sweden at the time also, so they absorbed him too. So it was a matter of both timing and convenience that they were able to create a super team while also simultaneously breaking up several teams beneath them and taking their best players.
A quick look at the World Junior men’s results reveals a bit of a crazy picture: Sweden hasn’t made the top 4 in 8 years, when Fredrik Nyman lost the bronze medal to Matt Dunstone in 2015. We think of Sweden as a curling power, and they are, but Isabella Wranå forced her way into the Swedish national team conversation by being dominant at the World Juniors, with two fourth place finishes, a silver, and a gold. Her team essentially arrived as fully formed on the women’s circuit (she’s been playing with Almida for over a decade) and that’s why she’s been able to challenge Anna, because Anna’s team is also fully formed and couldn’t have absorbed any of them. If there was a great Swedish junior team in the last 5 years, then maybe you have a Wrana/Hasselborg situation. But there hasn’t been.
You might’ve seen something similar to now happen 8 years ago if Niklas kept most of his 2014 team intact after 2014. Oskar was already playing with Crippa and Rasmus was in the wings, playing with Fredrik Nyman, who is right now Sweden’s #2 at 36th in the World. So you might’ve had something like Niklas/Kraupp/Lindberg/Kjell being nipped at by Eriksson/Wrana/Nyman/Sundgren had there not been a huge exodus of Niklas’ players.
Between the Brier/Scotties and the Slams, it’s been a rough year for curling tournament formatting. I actually don’t care all that much about eliminating tiebreakers (though I completely understand the team’s concerns and are fine with them being there), but if you’re cutting tiebreakers, how is the event still the same length of time? As a curler, the only reason to cut tiebreakers would be to limit the amount of time the event takes. Right now, teams land on Monday for practice to start play Tuesday, and then play one game a day for 4 days. All they’ve done with the tiebreakers being cut is not have the teams play one 2-game day, which was the format before. If you’re cutting breakers, then you have to squeeze the tournament. Keeping the same length while eliminating an entire draw (or two) seems very strange to me.
I’m guessing the tiebreaker cut was for TV (you know exactly how the draw will break and you can advertise all of your QF matchups on the broadcast of the last RR draw), but it still seems odd it didn’t filter down into event length.
I broadcast one full Mixed Doubles Super Series event, and now these are the questions I’m fielding—and from one of the country’s top MD players too! My view on the CTRS points being included in the CMDR is that it’s probably the best thing for the country at this moment. I think we don’t want to dissuade people from playing mixed doubles who are also some of the country’s top curlers, and I do think we are still at a point right now where Canada’s top MD-exclusive team (Walker/Muyres—also the World MD #2) could be beaten by any number of Canadian teams playing the 4-person game also. And that’s good, and fine. We should want to send our best representative to Worlds/Olympics and I think this system accomplishes that. And if it ends up being Kirk and Laura—great. They will have earned it by playing much more MD curling than most other top Canadian MD teams.
But that’s for right now. My (perhaps) controversial view as someone who has commentated roughly 14 Mixed Doubles games is that the CTRS/CMDR crossover should be eliminated after the 2026 Olympics. The reality in the sport of MD right now is that many of the other countries have MD-exclusive pairs. Japan has two, in fact, and one is the World #1 and the other is the World #15 (and that World #15 just beat that World #1 in the last MDSS final). South Korea has an exclusive pair. So does Sweden. So does Switzerland. So does Norway. And the list goes on. This isn’t even mentioning that some of the smaller curling powers also have a pair they are funding, and they’re getting very good. Estonia’s Marie Kaldvee and Harri Lill are the World #3, for example (in fairness, Marie does play 4s and is at the Euros right now, but MD is definitely her larger focus).
As I explained in my last newsletter, the depth of curling in Canada right now is turning into a bug and not a feature. Where our depth could become a feature is that we are so deep that we can easily afford to have mixed doubles-specific teams. And we should. Kirk and Laura were both prominent 4-person game players who left to explore Mixed Doubles, and we should be encouraging more top players to do the same by not counting CTRS points towards the CMDR. It would also allow Curling Canada to identify and fund these teams better, and we have a chance to do this early enough in this sport’s life cycle where it won’t create a huge depth problem where you have no idea who and how to fund these teams. Force curlers to make the decision, and make the points come from MD competitions only. It makes too much sense.
As for Mixed Doubles points counting towards the 4-player game…I don’t see it. I don’t know what exactly that’s helping. At least with the MD players’ 4-person rankings crossing over, both of those players played in all of those 4-person games to earn those points. I don’t think you can give a team points based on 1 of the 4 players competing in a different version of the game.
And finally, 1-10…I don’t know yet. Give me a bit more time to understand the rankings and I’ll get back to you.
Thanks everyone for reading, as always. I appreciate you all. You can subscribe and get every written newsletter for FREE delivered straight to your email inbox every time I write it, and you can sign up for a paid subscription by hitting the “Subscribe” button in the top right-hand corner, or going here:
See ya next time.