On the 2022 Brantford Nissan Classic, Joel Retornaz, Playing Schedules, and More!
It's a tournament recap, a cheers to a big Slam win, and a mailbag...oh my!
Well it took us a while but we are back. After Brantford, I spent a week with my in-laws doing Christmas things and eating way too many desserts. It was lovely but now I’m ready to talk about what I saw a week ago, as well as answer some of your questions. But first!
Joel Retornaz won a Slam yesterday, and that’s pretty insane to me. For a guy who had to knock on the door an absurd number of times before someone would let him in, it’s very cool to see the game expand to yet another country with at least 4 players good enough to win a Slam. With all the countries entering the Mixed Doubles fold, I think we’re a ways away from being finished with firsts.
This tweet also obscures the fact that he got knocked down to the European ‘B’ championships a few times and had to work his way back up. It’s very rare you’ll see a player stay around this long (especially at skip for almost all of it) and it’s the type of thing that should be lauded.
Also, all the tweets I’ve seen over the last few days about how we should make the Slams strictly Canadian or something? First of all, get lost. That’s xenophobic nonsense that has no appeal to anyone with any sort of logic. Second of all, the Retornaz story is exactly why the Slams have been and will remain an open competition for the best of the best.
I do wonder if it’s ever occurred to the people who cry about the money going to European or Asian teams, or that they’re getting more experience and thus getting better by coming over here, that if more countries get good at curling, there will be more money for everyone and that will encourage Canadian teams to stick with it? Imagine a top Canadian team being able to attract a truly global sponsor and not having to rely on hyperlocal businesses that are hyper-specific to a curling audience. If this keeps up, we will. Just a thought.
I’m not going to do my usual “let’s run down every team in the competition that made the playoffs” because there were way too many teams across both the men’s and women’s events and it was also VERY Ontario-heavy. But here’s a few thoughts:
The ice was straight. Real straight. Usually that evens the playing field and makes the games between teams with ranking disparities a little closer. So given that, it was extremely impressive that Team Gim won again. They seem unstoppable with Min-Ji Kim in the fold, and after losing their first game, were dominant. To me, they are entering the favourites conversation at Women’s Worlds (which I’m not even entirely sure they’re going to with the weird Korean qualification system, but they should be if they aren’t). Also, between this photo and the one they took in Calgary where they threw their entire winnings in the air ($12,000), they’re the best team in the world at taking championship photos.
Team Isabelle Ladouceur was very impressive to me. It’s the first year for this young lineup, and it looks very good. They can throw the huge weight, have the finesse game to back it up, and Isabelle has the exact right demeanour to skip in the women’s game. Looks like nothing bothers her out there. They lost a QF to Danielle Inglis, but that game finished at 1:30 am. I tend not to hold results against teams if they’re recorded after midnight.
Finally, Team Galusha were also victims of Midnight Madness but had a nice little run without their usual last rock thrower, Jo-Ann Rizzo, who was away at Senior Nationals. They’re playing more events than they ever have before, and have to travel all the way to Inuvik to compete in the NWT Playdowns. Kerry keeps insisting this is her last year of competing, but I sincerely hope not. The game is much better when the Territories are lively and Kerry’s carried that flag for so long.
Over on the men’s side, Pat Ferris picked up the W, and reminded me a lot of the teams I would play (and was a part of) in BC, where sometimes you’d have very solid, very unheralded teams because they didn’t leave home much and were behind flashier names that often won at the top. Pat’s got a great young team who seems content to “Let Pat Cook” (as Connor Lawes so often said throughout the weekend on stream) and Ontario feels a little bit more wide-open than it has in years past. We’ll see how they do in Port Elgin.
Over the course of the weekend, it looked to me like Team
Horgan Moulding was the best team on the ice. Darren has fully taken over skipping for the year (with Tanner throwing last) and the team looked much more fully formed than the previous two times I’d seen them. Darren told me that originally he was skipping due to injury, and then they finally had a team talk where Tanner told him to take the lead and he has. Communication was much stronger and the shots were there, too. With Brad Jacobs throwing his hat into the Northern Ontario ring, those playdowns perhaps got a bit more interesting, but this rink is still the odds-on favourite and could surprise at the Brier. We also got this fun moment where Darren didn’t know how to call the line in a tricky spot:
Team Horgan ran into another team that really impressed me, which was Team Asselin. With Felix now fully running the show and his brother Emile in the fold, they looked extremely solid all weekend, using the ice to their advantage and adapting their strategy where others had not. Felix is also a great character on social media and on stream, and I think will continue to add a lot to the sport as he begins his rise. There’s little competition in Quebec and I wonder if a J-M Menard-like run is in the offing. I see eventual Brier-winning potential here, or at least the ability to surprise a field like Menard did those years ago.
And lastly, the drama of the Ontario provincial berths loomed over the event, with Mike McEwen needing to win the whole thing to secure one. They fell just short in the semifinals, and now will need to qualify through the regionals. Some people may react strongly to that, but sometimes, especially if a team has had a tough year, the playdowns actually help. I remember losing the BC regionals in 2015 and we felt like, as one of the top seeds going in, that it was a huge letdown. We ended up needing the back door to qualify for provincials, but then ran all the way to the provincial final, losing in an extra end. We hadn’t had a great year, but that extra boost of confidence from running hot at the right time rolled right over into provincials and we played great. I have a feeling this could be a similar situation for Team McEwen, who looked more cohesive in Brantford to my eye and will still be among the favourites to take the Ontario crown (if they can tiptoe through the regional minefield).
Alright, I’m only gonna have space for a few questions so let’s get into it!
It’s maybe a copout answer, but it really is team-dependent. Some teams thrive on being constantly in action, others need time off. Krista McCarville is the poster person for the second strategy, and while she’s had some amazing results considering her team’s schedule, could you argue that if they were playing more, they’d fare just that little bit better at the Scotties and Trials? I think that is a fair thing to say. If you can’t do the 5-6 events a year thing and expect success, then it’s really just what number is comfortable between 10-15. The Slams account for 6, then you’ve got whatever national/international competitions come up which already puts you around 10. I don’t think there’s a right answer, but I think more teams should be choosy about it and not just play every weekend possible because they can, as that seems to hurt some teams at the wrong times too.
I think there’s a few things teams mean, but the largest one is delivery and release. Because those “professional” teams are able to practice together every day and for long hours, they have the time to not only emulate each other’s release and line of delivery, but they also have more time to work on different releases—one with less rotation for burying a stone, one with more rotation for more effective hitting, etc—and Canadians don’t have that sort of time. With the lack of both professionalism in the game and professional facilities (for example, all the Scots live in the same city and practice at the same facility every day with their national coaches), when Canadian teams get together for practice, they don’t have the same amount of time to do it. Even a team like Bottcher, who all noted it was extremely important for them to live in the same province to practice more, live 3 hours apart. Sure, you can meet in Red Deer in the middle (and they have, lots), but it’s not the same. So that’s what they mean, plus things like analytics, being able to quit a day job, playing as often as they’d like, etc.
Unless it’s a personality clash that just isn’t working, I don’t think you worry about anything results-wise until Year 2 at the earliest, and even then, not until halfway through the season. I also don’t think their results have been that bad, or certainly not the doomsday proposition some would have you believe.
It’s been a sad state of affairs with these new quad unis, unfortunately. :( I know that sponsor logos pop better on black and white, but my god is it a lot of black and white out there this season. The Team Scotland Euro jerseys, Team Horgan’s Northern Lights inspired kit, and John Epping’s white/purple/teal are the standouts so far. I also like Dunstone’s orange with the howling coyote fade, and Bottcher’s “midnight blacks” are a good example of how to make a black uni stand out at least a little bit with the gradient and star pattern.
As I said above, sure they do. Anytime Brad’s throwing last you have a chance to win, and Jordan Chandler is a good player too. Horgan is the favourite though for sure. If you were creating odds, you’d probably have Horgan somewhere around -200 and Jacobs at +150.
Thanks again for reading! And stay tuned this week for the debut of my brand-new podcast, Way Inside, dropping on Sportsnet’s Inside Curling feed on Thursday. It’s gonna be a real fun one and I can’t wait to talk to a bunch of your favourite curlers over the rest of the season. I’ll be writing a post about it once it comes out as well, so look forward to that!
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