On the ATB Okotoks Curling Classic
A good start...
I am currently sitting in the Calgary airport with 3 hours to kill before my flight, and of course everyone is curious about how the new teams and lineups are shaking down. Before I get there, I first wanna say thank you to everyone who tuned in on Curling Live. Last year’s opening event didn’t crest 1000 live viewers until the final. This year? The final peaked at 5000 live viewers and 1000 was pretty standard for most draws, reaching even higher for certain matchups. It’s been cool to be a part of, and we’re stoked you’re along for the ride. It’s only going to keep getting better too.
Also, how good is Chelsea Carey at commentating? There’s been a lot of talk that Jennifer Jones is headed for a major commentary chair when her career is done, but Chelsea has to be in that conversation too. A delight to work with, incredibly knowledgeable with remarkable insight on both the strategy being called and the players calling it, and she puts up with my bullshit. A great combo.
Here’s what I saw across the 11 games I watched this weekend:
Brendan Bottcher: The champ. And with good reason, as this squad already looks like a well-oiled machine. When the dust had settled on the new squads, this felt like the best team on paper to me and while we are only one event in and Brad Gushue has yet to take the ice in a competitive game, watching them this weekend they felt like the best of the new teams. One thing that was impressive to me was the inclusion of Paul Webster, their new coach. He may not be a name that’s super familiar to casual curling fans, but he has been working with Curling Canada as a national coach for years and was present at every game. It was obvious he’s set some clear directives the team is working on and they looked solid all weekend in their first event, going undefeated in a crowded field that featured 11 of the world’s top 25 men’s teams.
Kevin Koe: It was fun to watch Kevin Koe learn in real-time how to languish in the peace he has now been afforded by switching up his lineup to three understated guys like himself. There were actual multiple times Kevin would make a call, look up at the guys at the other end and say, “you guys like this?” And Tardi, Thiessen, and Martin would say, “yeah, we love it,” and Kevin almost looked surprised there was no second-guessing. Seems clear to me this is a big-time chemistry match. And I loved that Tyler Tardi seemed instantly comfortable at third. Could be easy to come on to a team with one of the best skips of all-time, playing a new position, and not have your say. But he spoke up when necessary without reservation and seemed a natural fit with Kevin, who also seemed open to dialogue with Tyler at every turn. A well-earned final finish.
Colton Flasch: Maybe not as “sexy” as some of the new squads as they have a returning lineup from last season, but as I said on stream, this team looks like a great case of everything in its right place. While Colt & Cat (great crime-fighting duo name) have had success at other positions, Colton has really grown into one of the game’s elite skips and Catlin has been nothing but dynamite in the 3-hole. The Marsh Brothers (a Spaghetti Western crime duo) have been criminally underrated and I think this unit is one that will be in the mix in 2026 and the bottom-line, no-doubt top team in Saskatchewan for the time being.
Matt Dunstone: Of the top new squads, this was the one that had the most “new squad” energy to me this weekend. And I don’t mean that negatively, it just seemed as an observer like things will take a bit of time to snap into place from top-to-bottom. They had games where they looked like world-beaters, from a trouncing of Team Horgan to a quarterfinal where they had John Epping chasing the rabbit around the rail all game, to a semifinal game against Team Bottcher where they were the clear second best. This is one of the teams that I am most excited to see by the end of the year, as I think there’s clear growth coming and they’re gonna be a force once all systems are go. One bold prediction: this quad is going to be Colton Lott’s coming out party as a dominant second in the game, similar to Marc Kennedy post-2010 Olympics and Brett Gallant after last season.
Reid Carruthers: Two words that kept coming up this weekend for this team was “team dynamics”. Reid mentioned it in his post-game interview with me, and off the ice it’s clear that these 4 are meshing very well as a unit. Couple that with Gunner’s big-weight ability probably serving a team best at third and Reid already making shots like he’s never left skipping, I really liked what I saw. Reid also mentioned in that interview it’s taking some time to adjust to being captain of a team again and not the assistant captain, and I’d argue that’ll be a bigger adjustment for Jason Gunnlaugson, going from captain to assistant captain. Everyone knows Gunner has that loveable manic energy, and I think when this team fully harnesses that, it’s gonna be a great combo.
Karsten Sturmay: I had a top player remark to me this weekend he feels like Karsten’s team has gotten about 25% better with the additions of J.D. Lind and Kyle Doering, and seeing them this weekend, that’s tough to debate. Honestly watching J.D. Lind play after so many years away makes you wonder what could have been. Obviously he’s had a great amount of success as a coach in the Japanese women’s program and has enjoyed that path he’s taken immensely, but goddamn if he can’t still make all the shots. He also thinks the game wonderfully and as Karsten told me after their qualifier win, he’s one of the best line-callers too. It’s not at all a stretch to say that if J.D. hadn’t decided to coach, we’re talking about him as one of the game’s best players right now, among the elite thirds in the game. Kyle Doering is also a dynamite second with an uncanny ability to make runbacks and one of the best guys you could hope to meet (he works at an animal shelter for goodness sake). This squad looks like they’ve levelled up and thinking about Alberta as a two-headed monster is probably a mistake as this team looks to have the ability to topple Bottcher or Koe in any given game.
John Epping: Another team where it’s all about the chemistry. I asked John before the event how the reunion with Pat and adding Scott Chadwick to the team came together and he told me it seemed like the right time for a reunion. John’s a guy who values chemistry over everything else, and you won’t find a team with a more sunny disposition on the ice at every position. It helps they can make a lot of shots, too. Some might see the loss of Ryan Fry as a step back for John, but this is a unit that wants to grow together and I think will still be a big factor in Ontario and on the wider stage.
Rylan Kleiter: I’m excited these boys are looking to finally ramp up their schedule with school and life commitments a bit more out of the way, as you don’t win seven consecutive U18 and U21 titles out of Saskatchewan without having a boatload of talent. Building off of their win at the stacked SGI Best of the West to end last season, third Joshua Mattern told me that they’re looking to play more now before they get older and other commitments get in the way, and the tour is better for it. Mattern himself is a dynamite third and the lynchpin on the squad, and they’re poised to be a worthy competitor to Colton Flasch in the race to be Wheat King.
The Best of the Rest: If you watched Kyler Kleibrink’s team play Brendan Bottcher in the A semis, you’d have figured they would end up qualifying for sure. Unfortunately it was two straight losses after that but Chelsea noted how Kyler seems to have the perfect demeanour for skipping and Dustin Kalthoff looks to be a nice fit as the elder statesman….The Islanders are finally taking the BC shackles off and playing a bit more on Tour this season, and while losing three qualifiers in a weekend never feels good, they were a few inches away from beating Kleiter and qualifying out of B and I had a few top-level curlers note to me this week how good they looked. With the other early results (or lack thereof) for other BC squads, you have to think they’re the prohibitive provincial favourite….A lot of people will look at Tanner Horgan’s finish with some consternation, but those on the ground could see how much the loss of Jake Horgan’s sweeping (injury) hurt them. Darren Moulding is also recovering from an offseason injury, so for now, if you had to grade them, it feels like an incomplete….It was a “Swiss miss” this weekend, as all three Swiss teams missed the playoffs, but perhaps the most impressive was Marco Hösli’s young team, playing short-handed as Marco is injured. They made a C Final without their skipper and without a second sweeper, and looked good doing it….Finally, perhaps the most surprising result was the bang-bang-bang finish for Riku Yanagisawa. A newer team out of Japan, I was looking forward to seeing them this weekend after they made the final in Martensville and qualified in Leduc. Unfortunately, no one saw much of them this weekend, losers of 3 straight. Yusuke Morozumi also went 0-3 in the event, a tough weekend for the Japanese contingent in Okotoks. Both have the usual busy schedules for Pacific Rim teams and I’m sure we’ll see them bounce back soon.
Oh, and the early “Curses for Kids” leader? It’s Jason Gunnlaugson, with $30. We’ll see how well the ladies fare with the swear jar for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation in Calgary.