On the 2024 BC Provincials and a Busy Weekend
Playdowns, playdowns, playdowns...
God bless playdowns season. With the way things still shake out in Canada, we are treated to multiple crazy weekends where dreams are made and crushed in equal measure. I was lucky enough to be on the call for a third straight BC Scotties and Men’s Provincials, which were back in an arena for the first time since before COVID. It was a special week with lots of cool stuff, so let’s start there and work our way east, breaking it all down for you!
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I’ll spend a little more time here than the other provinces since I lived there for 25 years, did basically all my curling there, and I was in the building.
We have to start with Corryn Brown and her No Good, Terrible, Actually Amazing Sunday. What a rollercoaster for that team. They looked pretty solid all week but had some troubling round-robin and 1-2 Game results against Clancy Grandy, but the same thing happened to Grandy last year and she turned it around in the finals and beat Team Brown in the game that mattered most. I thought things were maybe setting up the same way for Team Brown, especially after they stole one in the first end, but after giving up a 5 in the second, they really never recovered.
It was a tale of two seasons for the two favourites, as Brown was much better this year than last, and Grandy fell off of her Wild Card berth pace from last season. But Grandy was more than full value for the win, playing spectacularly up and down the lineup and making Brown pay at every turn. I dare to say there hasn’t been a provincial finals performance that convincing from a BC women’s team since the Kelly Scott and Kelley Law days. If they play like that at the Scotties…look out. Team Grandy plays a VERY aggressive style with lots of rocks in play, and when it’s not working, it’s really not working and they pay for it. But when it does work, it’s a strategy even most of the top women’s teams do not play and it could make for some potentially big upsets at the Scotties if they keep it up.
As for Corryn, the Actually Amazing Sunday came when they needed Kaitlyn Lawes to win Manitoba and Selena Sturmay to win Alberta to clinch the famed “Nunavut Wild Card” spot, and those two things happened, both on heavy draws (more on that in a sec). I saw the girls that night at the Victoria Airport, and safe to say it was one of the more emotionally insane days of their sporting lives. Glad to see their hard work over the course of the season get rewarded and they’re full value for their Scotties spot.
Other quick notes on the women’s field: nice to see the long run for Kristen Ryan, who is one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet and brings so much positivity to the sport. I hope she continues to have deep runs at the provincials….the future is pretty darn bright for Team Bowles. Into the playoffs while still eligible for U21 provincials is very impressive, and had a few shots broken their way in the 3-4 game, they’d be bronze medallists. The back end of Emily Bowles and Meredith Cole in particular were dazzling at points over the week…tough week for last year’s bronze medallist, Taylor Reese-Hansen. Just never seemed to get the team going the way they did last year. They’re a 5-person team that alternates the lineup often and I wonder how long that lasts…it was nice to see a second U21 team at the provincials as well in Holly Hafeli. They didn’t make the playoffs but had some great games and the future in BC is bright.
While the women’s provincials were always likely to be a two-horse race, the men’s field felt more wide open. Team Schneider, returning 3 of the 4 defending champions, was certainly the favourite on paper, but it hadn’t been a great year for them on tour. They also switched the lineup mid-season and Catlin Schneider hadn’t skipped since university. There were lots of reasons you could assume going into the week that it was anyone’s game. And it took Team Schneider themselves a bit to get going, losing the A Final to Team Richard on a tie measure (Richard was up 1 so the tie measure resulting in the end being a blank gave them the win) and while I wasn’t there yet, I was hearing whispers of some struggling. But in the playoffs, they looked every bit the part, Catlin in particular. Everyone knows Catlin is a fantastic hitter, but he wasn’t cowed by the big draws or the soft touch shots he needed to make to win the final. It was a deserving victory.
And he had to make such tough shots in the final because Jason Montgomery was in the middle of one of the finer weeks we’ve seen out of a skip at the BC Provincials in a long time. Monty is almost BC’s version of Team McCarville—they play a couple of events per season, but rely mostly on practice time, league play, and familiarity with each other to have success. Monty and Miles Craig, his second, have been playing together since they were teenagers, Chris Baier has been with them for the last 6 years or so, and the addition of young Troy Cowan was a great one, as he’s a beast on the brush and made an awful lot of shots to get ends set up. After Monty made one of the best shots I’ve ever seen to stay alive in the C Semi, they almost felt like a team of destiny, as Monty stopped missing and the team in front of him played amazing. Alas, the patient strategy Team Schneider employed got them 5 blanks and the W as the wheels just fell off at the wrong time for Team Montgomery late.
Last year after provincials I predicted that no two BC teams would be the same going into next year, and I was right (other than the Islanders, the lone full-lineup holdover from the 2023 Provincials). What I couldn’t know is how quickly lineups would change right before provincials. Andrew Nerpin left Team Robillard (after Kyler Kleibrink did the same). Then Kyler Kleibrink appeared with Team Pierce after the mysterious disappearance of Matthew McCrady from the team’s lineup. It was all in a state of flux, and made the playoffs a weird thing, as the 2022 silver medalist Islanders (with Corey Chester at the helm) were nowhere to be found, Team Pierce bowed out in the 3-4 game, and Team Richard fell apart in the playoffs after winning the A. I am predicting a similar offseason of change, as it’s hard to imagine any of these BC lineups staying together into next year except for perhaps Team Montgomery, and maybe Team Schneider though I think the Brier result probably plays a factor there after a sluggish year on tour.
A tough way to go down for Team Skrlik, and it reminded me a lot of the BC Final last year—a hometown Scotties berth was on the line for Corryn Brown and Clancy Grandy was in the Scotties regardless, having a Wild Card spot sewn up before provincials. Corryn also had a shot to win that game in 10, and while it wasn’t as straight-forward as Kayla’s, it’s still a devastating thing to see a loss like that. A great week for Team Sturmay though, and you know how much it meant to them to get a home province Scotties, wearing the Alberta blue and yellow, even if they had a Wild Card spot regardless.
One little sidenote: this isn’t me picking on Team Skrlik, but it’s just an obvious example of it so it’s demonstrative. You may have noticed on Kayla’s final stone, that Ashton Skrlik was using deliberate and heavy broom pushes on the outside of the curling path of the stone. It was clearly heavy out of the hand, and the reason Ashton was doing this is to try to get the rock to stop. There’s a thought that these broom pushes put ridges in the pebble and act like mini “speed bumps” that slow the rock down, as well as potentially leaving a bit of debris there in front of the running surface for the rock to pass over.
This, of course, is not illegal, and well within the boundaries of the rules, so this isn’t me tsk-tsk’ing Skrlik or anyone else who does it. Again, it’s just a very clear example, so it’s easier to point out, as some other teams are a little bit more consistent with the movement (doing it every stone regardless, or less deliberately) so it isn’t as obvious. You can actually see Ashton sort of give up halfway down the sheet also, as if she doesn’t really want to do it (it’s hard to tell with the commentary but it actually seems like she says, “I don’t want to” in response to Geri-Lynn Ramsay telling her to keep trying it out of desperation). It shows a bit of the remnants from Broomgate, where teams didn’t necessarily want to do things that felt to them like they were against the spirit of the game, but everyone else was doing it, so they did.
And that’s really the main thing I wanted to get at: a LOT of top teams on tour are doing this right now, and I know a LOT of teams are unhappy about it. I’ve heard from a few top curlers that there may be a crackdown on that coming. What that rule looks like or how it is enforced, I don’t know, but I think something to do with how you can sweep a stone is coming, whether it’s in-season or in the summer. Stay tuned.
Ok, so this one was a week ago, but wow. Skylar Ackerman. I’m particularly impressed with her two shots in the extra end to win it. Didn’t blink at all and for being so young, it was an impressive display. Looking forward to seeing more of them at the Scotties.
What a great run from Beth Peterson. I thought the addition of Kelsey Rocque would do great things for that team, and there’s no doubt that it did. It is unfortunate to lose a game on a miss, but you’d have favoured Team Lawes with the hammer in the extra and it was Peterson’s first final, so these things happen. I really like that 5-person lineup for them and it’s clearly working. As for Team Lawes, while they easily had the Wild Card wrapped up, you have to think of this as a very positive win for them. They’ve had a good year on tour but are still lacking that signature win, whether it be a Slam or a very tough Manitoba field. With Cameron, Peterson, Watling, and Campbell to contend with, this was easily the deepest provincial field and winning has to be a huge confidence boost for them heading into the Scotties.
Just drop what you’re doing and watch this video of Team McCarville celebrating their husbands winning the Northern Ontario championship. It really encapsulates what we all love so much about curling and about our national championships. Curling is really just the best sport, and Team McCarville is one of the best things about it. You could also do yourself a favour and read Kristina Rutherford’s Sportsnet profile on them. Kristina has written some of my favourite pieces about curling over the last few years (especially from someone who isn’t a curling-specific journalist), and this was no exception.
I tweeted this out, but the Ontario final felt almost like the perfect encapsulation of what the new Wild Card rules were meant to do. Rachel Homan has lost 5 games this season. There’s no doubt Danielle Inglis and Carly Howard are having nice seasons, but the reality is…they probably weren’t beating Homan. What I particularly loved, however, was not only Inglis winning, but being fully deserving of the win by playing a very, very busy schedule. They saw the opportunity that was presented to them with Rachel Homan being pre-qualified, and they weren’t going to mess that up. They played a TON, and it’s been Danielle’s best season ever. Carly Howard had a great week and a great final and I hope she eventually gets her time in the sun, but this final felt like Inglis’ to lose and again, despite having a Wild Card potentially secured, it was awesome to see them win. Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of women.
And how about Jayden King? Yeah yeah, Team Howard, whatever whatever, but my goodness what a run for them. From a 0.09% chance of winning their C qualifier after getting 4 in 10 and stealing in 11 to beating John Epping in the semifinal to the double Jayden made to force the extra, my goodness. Jayden was at the U21 Nationals just last year, and now almost beat Team Howard in an Ontario final. And look, I’ll say it: it’s also really nice to see some diversity in Canadian curling. Hopefully Jayden’s run inspires.
Marie-France Larouche is back at the Scotties. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Me seeing Jean-Michel Arsenault winning the Quebec Tankard:
And perhaps I cursed Felix Asselin by noting him as one of the more underrated curlers in the game in my last newsletter, but what a stunning upset by Team Arsenault. I genuinely had not heard of Arsenault until he took 2 of 3 games from Felix this weekend. Looking forward to watching more of them at the Brier.
Newfoundland & Labrador
I love Stacie Curtis and I am thrilled for them, but I have to admit: I really wanted to see a skip with the last name “Godsland” at the Scotties. You have to think a jersey with “Godsland” on it right above the N&L logo would’ve been a hot seller, as that’s how most people who live there describe it.
And a tough way to go down for Greg Smith, who is always a fan favourite when he makes it to the Brier, but Team Symonds is always hanging around the title picture and will be very solid representatives for The Rock. Plus, who doesn’t love the “35 Years Between Briers” story?
Prince Edward Island
Tyler Smith is back again. He hasn’t had a winning record at the Brier yet, but he had a very solid run at his last Canadian Juniors in 2020 and he has a big shot ability that can definitely scare some teams. Always enjoy watching him play.
And where Suzanne Birt’s absence left a notable opportunity for PEI Women’s teams, Team DiCarlo stepped in. And boy did they ever, as Devin Heroux tweeted out the winning shot by 4th-rock thrower Veronica Mayne and it is a DANDY. What a way to clinch your first trip to the Show.
Matthew Manuel is back again, and after having one of the more unheralded “Shots of the Week” at last year’s Brier, he proved to be a thorn in the side of Owen Purcell again at the Nova Scotia Tankard, who is ranked 20 spots ahead of him in the WCT Rankings. Sometimes guys find their best games at provincials, and they’re the most dangerous.
Over on the ladies’ side, I watched the final few ends of that game and I think a strategy call by Team Black—who were upset by Team Smith in the final—will haunt them for a while to come. In the 9th, tied without hammer, Black’s lead Shelley Barker hogged her first stone. Team Smith then threw their first stone into the house, and then after a timeout, Team Black elected to hit it, essentially giving Team Smith the hammer in the 10th.
It seemed like a baffling decision at the time, especially considering they had a full team discussion with their coach about it. I would’ve loved to hear what their reasoning was for doing that, but it may have cost them the title. It’s especially jarring given that Black is ranked 28th and Smith 63rd, a full 35 spots in the rankings.
When Andrea Kelly is away, Melissa Adams will play (at the Scotties). I’m not even joking. This will be Melissa Adams’ fifth Scotties appearance. Her first, in 2009, was as an alternate for Andrea Kelly. Her four wins are either years where Kelly did not compete, or COVID years. She’s probably crossing her fingers that this McCarville/Kelly partnership lasts another few seasons.
Jamie Koe and Kerry Galusha won again. Also, water is wet.
There you have it! What a last few weeks, and we get to do it all again over the next few weekends as the remaining provinces hold their Tankards. It’s a beautiful time to be a curling fan. See you next time, thanks for reading.