On the All-Time First Name Men's Team
What's in a name?
A few weeks ago, I was on my way to Calgary, Alberta for a show, and I had some time to kill in the airport so I asked people if they had any curling questions for me. This one piqued my interest:
People have undergone this exercise in other sports for years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done for curling. So I figured, why not take a stab at it. For the men, it’s definitely tricky. There are a LOT of good contenders. The women have a few really strong contenders and then a lot of “hm, they COULD win on the right day” teams. I’ve tried to keep people in the same positions they were known for playing, but some teams make that more difficult than others. It’s mostly a “can you imagine this person playing this position”-type thing, which you’ll see me elaborate on. This ended up taking a lot more time and research than I intended for just a simple response to an AMA tweet, but it was certainly fun to put together.
Here are the rankings, in some semblance of an order. I’ll do the men’s this time around, and the ladies next week.
The “Lacks a Hall of Fame Skip” Tier
This tier ends up at the bottom because curling is as strong link of a game as you’ll find, and missing an A-tier skip hurts real bad.
Skip: Pete Fenson (USA)
Third: Peter de Cruz (SUI)
Second: Peter Corner (CAN)
Lead: Peter Smith (SCO)
Just an extreme amount of seconds here with nowhere to go. Pete Fenson was one of the more underrated players in the 00s and he’s got three extremely accomplished seconds (or second-rock throwers) with him, but you gotta think most of the teams on the list would take this team out. If the bonspiel requires all 4 team members to be from different countries however…this might be the best team in the competition.
Skip: Scott McDonald (CAN)
Third: Scott Howard (CAN)
Second: Scott Pfeifer (CAN)
Lead: Scott Bailey (CAN)
Another case where you have Hall of Famers on the front end (and not just HOFers but arguably two of the best to ever play their position), but things get a little more thin on the back end, which you really can’t afford in this First Name Classic Bonspiel. Scott Howard has turned into a dandy third and Scott McDonald has two Brier appearances to his name but it’s just not going to be enough.
The Just Not Quite Tier
Look, not every team can be perfect. Sometimes a group of 4 JUST doesn’t quite come together the way you want it to. There’s not really a great thing you can point to as to why the team wouldn’t be fully there, but it’s a feeling you can identify.
Skip: Jeff Stoughton (CAN)
Third: Jeff Ryan (CAN)
Second: Jeff Sharp (CAN)
Lead: Geoff Walker (CAN)
With this team, it’s fairly easy to identify why they just might not have it. Yes, they have one of the ten best skips ever and certainly one of the best leads and sweepers ever, but despite having a 4-time Saskatchewan champ (Sharp) and a Brier and World champ in there (Ryan), the team just doesn’t FEEL as good as the ones to come.
Skip: Mark Dacey (CAN)
Third: Mark Nichols (CAN)
Second: Marc Kennedy (CAN)
Lead: Mark Fenner (USA)
This team might have the strongest middle of the lineup of any team in this entire field, but you’ve got a fairly young, untested lead (who is admittedly a US champion and just narrowly missed out on going to Beijing) and a skip who won a Brier but didn’t win the Worlds and outside of a short and hot 5-year run, hasn’t done as much in the game as others on the list have. But man, Kennedy/Nichols make it tough not to have them a bit higher.
Skip: Don Duguid (CAN)
Third: Don Walchuk (CAN)
Second: Don McKenzie (CAN)
Lead: Don Bartlett (CAN)
Ironically enough, three of these Dons all played on the same team, winning the silver medal at the 1985 Brier with Pat Ryan (Bartlett was the alternate). Maybe it’s a recency bias as to why I feel this team is missing something since everyone here is a world champion, but there’s a vibe here that I think just narrowly bumps them out of the elite tier. Feel free to be upset with me.
Skip: Rick Folk (CAN)
Third: Richard Hart (CAN)
Second: Rick Lang (CAN)
Lead: Rick Sawatsky (CAN)
At some point the margins on the teams become so close that you simply have to use what you have on paper, and what we have on paper is a lead that just doesn’t have the Brier or World championships that other men later on this list will. That said, Swat’s a phenomenal lead and has lost both an Olympic Trials final and a Brier final, and he’s been to the Show 9 times. So this is still a very, very good team but just not quite there.
The Elite Tier
This is where it starts to get really complicated.
Skip: Pat Ryan (CAN)
Third: Pat Simmons (CAN)
Second: Patrick Hürlimann (SUI)
Lead: Pat Perroud (CAN)
This is a tricky one because it’s…well, it’s a lot of skips. In fact, it’s almost crazy that we’re considering our only Olympic Gold Medallist on this team would have to move down to second, but would YOU play Patrick Hürlimann ahead of Ryan or Simmons? Didn’t think so. Plus you have a two-time World Champ in Perroud playing his natural position at lead and this team looks like a real winner.
Skip: Brad Gushue (CAN)
Third: Brad Jacobs (CAN)
Second: Brad Thiessen (CAN)
Lead: Brad Heidt (CAN)
You’ve got three Brier winners, one Brier finalist, and another 2 guys who are in that GOAT skip conversation with Kevins Martin and Koe. The only issue here is, similar to the Pats, this is a classic “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario, where you have three guys who basically never played any position other than skip, and the idea of Brad Heidt playing lead is absolutely hilarious (if you know, you know). Still, two Olympic Gold Medals (and maybe soon to be 3) says a lot and this team is really only getting dinged because Brad Heidt has to play lead.
The Top 3
Skip: John Shuster (USA)
Third: John Morris (CAN)
Second: Jon Mead (CAN)
Lead: John Landsteiner (USA)
I’m incredibly tempted to put this team at #1, and it’s for a couple reasons (not just because my name is John, but that helps).
The first reason is that this team, by far, has the best on-paper resumé of any team on this list. Four Olympic gold medals, including one in the Mixed Doubles discipline, something no other team can claim. TEN Olympic appearances (once Beijing is completed). While the American fellas don’t have the World Championship titles to their name, they do have a Worlds bronze and Morris and Mead more than pick up the slack there. Jon Mead of course played third most of his career but he was an incredible hitter and can sweep so we like him at 2.
The other reason is this: you know how we often joke that in Olympic hockey, Canada could send a B team and still have a chance to win gold? Well that’s the same here. The B team would feature John Epping at skip, John Ferguson at third, John Kawaja at second, and then any number of world champs to play lead: John Bryden, John Pearson. The point is, the Johns are mighty and it’s tough not to have them higher up. But alas…
Skip: Kevin Martin (CAN)
Third: Kevin Koe (CAN)
Second: Kevin Park (CAN)
Lead: Kevin Marsh (CAN)
This team does not have the accomplishments, on paper, that the Pats or the Brads or the Johns do. But what they do have is Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe playing back end, which has some degree of inevitability to it. Like I said, this list is a vibe, and it’s hard to imagine a team with those two at back end on it not being the best. If you’re talking about the best skip to ever play, 90 out of 100 people would say one of their two names.
Plus we have the added bonus of Kevin Koe having experience playing third earlier in his career, as he did for John Morris and then on his own team with Blake MacDonald before he took over throwing last for good in 2009. In his day, people would describe Kevin Park as the best hitter on the planet, so bumping him from third to second is no issue. You might say that Kevin Marsh presents some of the same issues that Rick Sawatsky does, which is true, and in fact, Marsh only has one Brier appearance compared to Sawatsky’s 9. AND he doesn’t play lead. But Kevin Martin is his skip, and Kevin Koe is his third. That said, this team still just doesn’t QUITE have enough. At some point, on-paper success matters. And the number one team has it.
Skip: David Murdoch (SCO)
Fourth: David Nedohin (CAN)
Second: David Hay (SCO)
Lead: David Smith (SCO)
Sure, this team doesn’t have an Olympic Gold Medal. But they do have a silver. And 8 World Championships. AND a whopping TWENTY-SEVEN World Championship appearances. Throw in some European titles on top of that and David Nedohin’s place on one of the greatest teams of all-time and you’re cooking with gas. Plus, David Murdoch was a guy who proved he can beat Kevin Martin in the big games. And, they’ve got an extremely strong fifth in David Mathers, who is quietly one of the better front-end players in today’s game and could step in at a moment’s notice. Can they dismantle the Kevins? I’m not sure, but at some point, all the accolades have to count for something and so I’m going to give the very, very slight nod to the Davids. Who knew the top First Name team would be mostly made up of Scots? I suppose they did invent the game, after all. And apparently, they also loved naming their sons the same thing.
Thanks for reading. See you back here next time for the ladies’ team. As always, you can subscribe below. If you’re already subscribed, you can respond to this newsletter by replying directly to it, or on Twitter at @cullenthecurler.