On the 2023 PointsBet Invitational, Sweeping, and Curling Canada
Much to ponder as we enter curling's busy season...
Hey friends. With the first big event now wrapped up, we are truly in the midst of curling season. The first Slam is around the corner, there’s a few big cashspiels in our midst, and some trends are already starting to pop up. Let’s dig in, and I’ll answer a few of your questions at the end too.
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The Second Annual PointsBet Invitational
How about that Rachel Homan? Make it 2-for-2 when she skips within roughly a month of delivering a child, and who can forget her run to the Scotties final nearly 8 months pregnant too? It’s simply incredible and a feat you really can’t overstate. With women’s sports crushing ratings and attendance across the board, I’m a little shocked it hasn’t gotten more mainstream attention. It should.
And how about Team Homan in general? A perfect 12-0 on the season with two titles, and one without Rachel even playing. I have to say, I was a little skeptical about moving Tracy to true third, not because of ability, obviously, but you never know how a life-long skip adjusts. A lot of people think of the sweeping, but Tyler Tardi made a great point to me last year on Inside Curling that the biggest adjustment for him was no longer seeing every rock on the sheet. When you’ve skipped your whole life, you’re used to being able to use the information from seeing at least 12 rocks thrown before yours to make your shots, and it was a huge adjustment for him. It looks like Tracy is adjusting just fine, thank you. Last year I was quite confident in saying that I thought Cory Thiesse’s best position was third even though she had pretty much only played skip beforehand, and that seems to be working out quite well for her. Perhaps I should have been as confident about Tracy. Einarson having a true foil would certainly make this year more interesting.
Nothing too crazy on the women’s side otherwise, but not a huge surprise to see Christina Black make the Final 4. They’re playing a busier schedule this season and I think it’s going to serve them very well. I kinda like the little bubble of teams forming below the top group of Einarson/Homan/Jones/Lawes. Kate Cameron is off to a wicked start, Clancy Grandy looks in good form again, and then some really fun young teams in Ladouceur and Serena Gray-Withers too. And of course, you can never count against Krista McCarville at a Scotties.
Speaking of young teams, how about that Team Plett? I figured with them winning the U21s last year as a U18 team, they were really good, but I was simply blown away with how confident they looked on TV. First time on TSN, against Jennifer Jones, for $3000, and they acted like they’d been there before and gave the GOAT a great run. Sure, it helps when you have daughters of World champions on the team, but even still. Wildly impressive.
On the men’s side, I joked with Reid via text after the final that maybe they should consider trying to force every tournament they play in to be single-elimination. It can’t have been the way they dreamed it up with two draw-to-the-button wins and needing to score 3 in 10 just to get there in the final, but you can’t argue with the back-to-back giant cheques. One moment I loved: in the final, Brad missed a takeout as he didn’t like the turn Reid asked for and felt like that took him out of the shot. Rather than asking Reid to play the other turn, he just threw it, and then came down the ice and apologized to Reid for not talking to him about changing the turn. Reid said he would’ve wanted Brad to play that turn anyway, but Brad further acknowledged that even that confirmation might’ve helped him make it. It’s decently early into this team’s journey and Brad’s journey as a third, but that’s the type of high-level communication that makes an elite team. And kudos to the TSN audio team for leaving the mics on so we could hear it.
Matty D and the boys will feel hard done by, and there’s no doubt for me they were the best team on the week. It got a little away from them in 10, and as I said on Twitter, I think if they throw first in the draw to the button, Matt’s rock is pinned. It just seemed to catch a line where either Reid’s rock ran or the sweepers pounded down the ice (that was Russ’ theory), and never curled. I thought halfway down the sheet it was perfect. You could say the same for Brad Gushue too, who was equally stunned after he also followed the same path Reid did and his rock didn’t curl either. Teams lobbied after last year’s fiasco to be able to throw whichever turn they wanted, I wonder if they wanna switch back now.
Briefly, tough last few weeks for John Epping. They had a nice result in Oakville, but they crashed out early at the Shorty Jenkins and lost to Ryan Wiebe here. It certainly feels like you’d be silly betting against an Epping/Howard Ontario final, but Sam Mooibroek is quietly working his way into contention and the usual suspects like Pat Ferris and Mark Kean are also hanging around. This is probably the most vulnerable those two teams have been in the last decade. And a tough one for Kevin Koe too, though Rylan Kleiter is no slouch. Matt Hall’s won an awful lot of championships and the Kleiter team had played together for so long that I think adding Matt comes at a good time. They were very good, but sometimes just that little tweak to the mix can jumpstart a team. I’m curious to see how their year continues to shape up.
A few notes on the event overall. Are we sure this is a good permanent replacement for the Canada Cup? The big cheque is fun to look at and PointsBet has been a really great sponsor for curling, injecting a lot of money into not just this event, but supplementary content, team sponsorships, etc. The Canada Cup just had a feel to it, and in years where it directly led to an Olympic berth, it felt a little more important to the teams than $50,000 does. I like the event, I like the format, but with the last Canada Cup now 4 years in the distance and this assuredly being its replacement, I wish there was a way we could have both.
I did pick some nits at the seeding earlier this week, and I do think it needs to be tweaked. First of all, I think the top seeds getting to pick their opponents would rule. Who seeds 1-3 play isn’t super interesting, but let’s say the 6th seed getting a chance to pick from only a couple of teams would be VERY fun. Secondly, I think having the club champion be the 16th seed is probably wrong. This year, we saw former Ontario champ Greg Balsdon in there against Brad Gushue, and no disrespect to the younger squads, but I think Brad would’ve rather played the collegiate or the uSports winner, the collegiate winner in particular. I’m not naming them because I think it’s true of any year, not just this one. A lot of college teams are throw-together teams that do not play together during the season, and while they may be made up of some high-level players, generally the depth isn’t strong. It’s nothing compared to the uSports championships, in where the winners are often a funded program and the curlers play together year-round.
Club championships are now allowed one fully excepted member. Kevin Koe could play in the club championships if you wanted him to. And you only have to be three years removed from a Brier or Slam appearance. So Kevin Koe could be skipping a team with Dave Nedohin, Scott Pfeifer, and Nolan Thiessen. Not saying that would ever happen, but the fact that it could makes me think the seeding should be shifted. Brad handled Balsdon no problem, but it’s worth pondering.
I tweeted this earlier and people thought I was being negative. I wasn’t. I think the draw to the button is great, and perfect for this format. If you’re gonna have a team only need to win 4 games to win $50k, might as well have an exciting finish.
It’s Letter Time! It’s Letter Time!
A reminder that paid subscribers to my newsletter get first access to mailbag questions. So with that in mind, here’s the first one this time from yearly subscriber Cate:
Great question…that I’m not high-ranking enough to know the answer to. I would imagine the dream would’ve been to have someone in place by the end of summer, but I believe Kathy’s departure was unexpected and Curling Canada likely didn’t want to rush and make a hire for the sake of it. I think some curlers expected that Nolan Thiessen would be in the mix to move into the role, and it’s possible he still is, though that’s a promotion you might’ve seen them make in the summer if it were to happen. As you may or may not know, Canadian sport organizations have a pretty bad habit of recycling executives. In Kathy’s case alone, in the last decade or so she went from Rugby Canada to the PanAm Games to Curling Canada and now to Hockey Canada. So I do wonder if that’s something that could happen here and they need deck chairs to shuffle before they can announce. Them bringing back Danny suggests to me we’ll see the hire within the curling season and not after, but I suppose time will tell. Let’s just hope they’re not looking in Nick Bontis’ direction.
Good question from young Kyler here. As it so happens, I’ve talked to a few curlers this summer about sweeping specifically, and a lot of skips do think that the sweeping is currently too effective. Most players will tell you they’d like the game to be around 80/20, that the throwing should be about 80% of what makes you successful at the game, and the sweeping 20%. A top men’s skip told me he thinks right now it’s 55/45, a top women’s skip told me on their side of the game she thinks it’s probably closer to 65/35. In any case, it certainly seems like most top teams would like a bit of a change, and it’s possible the fans would too, as we see a ton of griping about blank ends all the time, most of which are made possible because curlers can make everything now with improved ice/rocks and good sweeping.
I do think in the next few years we’re going to see the rules looked at. There’s Sweeping Summit 2: The Sweepening coming up this year, and while I’m not sure we’ll necessarily see a fabric change, I do wonder if there will be rules against sweeping with the curl, ie. carving/knifing. The reason for that is simply because it’s easy to enforce. There’s no real “cheating” you could do, if you sweep a rock to make it curl, that’s obvious and obviously enforceable. But if you do that, then do you only have one sweeper each rock? Do you have two guys on the same side? Maybe you make it so you can only carve the rock from the hog line in. Who knows.
The big issue most people have is they don’t want officials to be a part of the game. But the other thing is, we’re always talking about how there’s too much at stake now with the money that’s available and the Olympics too. I’m not sure we can have our cake and eat it too. Is it possible we’re heading for a future where there’s referees that enforce potential dumping/sweeping violations? Can curling even afford to pay people to do that? It’s something that’ll get discussed, I’m sure.
The difference is that Year 2 is the make-or-break year, generally speaking. If you think things went well enough in Year 1, you can hang on to Year 2 without changing much. If things don’t quite get there in Year 2, then those decisions do have to be made, and to answer your last question, I do not think the teams are locked in now until 2026. But after this year, they almost certainly are. With the Trials happening so early in Year 4, you really want to be sure you have the entire team/gameplan/everything set in Year 3, and that means teams typically make their final changes, if they’re going to, after this season. If you look at the teams that win Trials, they’re almost exclusively 4-year teams, and at the very minimum, two-year teams. Brad Gushue in 2006 is pretty much the lone exception, though he had played numerous years with Mark Nichols and Jamie Korab before adding one player in Russ Howard, and teams weren’t as quad-focused until 2010.
If you’re a team that’s not solidified right now on the men’s side especially, you have to be looking at that Gushue/Dunstone/Bottcher threesome and thinking it’s gonna be pretty tough to break into. Reid Carruthers is the closest, but he’s had some lineup disruption too. We’ve only seen two events out of the new Team Koe. If you’re forming a new team after this season, you’re not only facing some of the best players in the world, but you’re facing them and they’ve had two more years of experience together than you’ve had. Plus, each of those teams has pairs/triples that have been together for a LONG time (Gushue/Nichols/Walker, Dunstone/Lott, Kennedy/Hebert, Carruthers/Samagalski) and you just can’t teach that familiarity.
The reality also is, if these teams are making a change, it’s not a huge one. It’s almost assuredly one-in, one-out, like we saw with Brad Jacobs adding Ryan Fry in 2012, Rachel Homan adding Sarah Wilkes in 2020, Kevin Koe with John Morris in 2020, etc. So that’s really what you’re watching out for this year, and with how chaotic Year 1 of this quad was, we’ll see what Year 2 has in store for us.
Alright, that’s it for this time. Thanks everybody for reading! As always, a free subscription gets you everything I write here. It will always be free, and it will be delivered straight to your inbox if you sign up in the right-hand corner. If you want the video version of this newsletter and some other perks, or you just want to support my work, monthly/yearly subscriptions are available at the same link. Until next time!