On the Curling Canada Format Changes
Another quad, another set of rules...
Curling Canada made their big announcement this week and kinda sneakily rolled two big announcements into one, with quite a few smaller tweaks included. Let’s break down the announcement in detail, shall we?
(Photo: Associated Press/Marco Trovati)
Best-of-3 final! Just couched in a sentence with some other info, and not standing on its own, which is funny for such a big change. This seems to be Curling Canada guarding against a “fluke” winner, but really, the Trials process now, especially with only one Pre-Trials spot (more on that in a bit), should weed out any fluke winner to start with. And in history, we’ve probably had 4 “fluke” winners (I keep putting fluke in quotes because your mileage on what constitutes a fluke may vary): Mike Harris in 98, Shannon Kleibrink in 06, Brad Gushue in 06, and Cheryl Bernard in 10. And guess what? They all won medals, with Gushue winning gold.
So while I’m not sure that extra protection is necessary, a best-of-3 is kinda fun and helps give the illusion that the better team will win out. I talked to two curlers who have played in Trials finals before on both the winning and losing sides, and both liked the change. A different curler expressed to me that it could create some weird ticketing/TV issues. A Game 3 would obviously be a bonanza for TSN, but how do you decide which game is played when? Do you go Saturday night, Sunday morning, and then hope for a big Sunday night Game 3? What if it’s settled in 2? Are we crowning a champ at noon on a Sunday? Lots of questions yet to be answered.
So 1-6 are pretty straight-forward Points/Brier/Scotties winners qualifying, and I got no issue there. I included 7 because I think that’s actually the spot where you’re most likely to find the “fluke”. It’s obviously meant for a good team that maybe doesn’t put it together at a Scotties or Brier to scoop them up into the Trials. However, there’s a world where the top 6 teams in the current CTRS standings have already got those spots and now you’re looking at a team getting in through a passive process, rather than winning their way in, and that can be an issue.
The Pre-Trials often qualifies a hot team that’s playing very well. They often still don’t do great at Trials (Team Jacobs and Morris in 13 notwithstanding) but at least having to come through a Pre-Trials process sorta guarantees they’re playing well. A bad team could kinda rope-a-dope their way into that 7 spot and then have a hot week at Trials and get the spot, which I’m sure CC would try to avoid. Again, bad is relative when we’re talking what will likely be 8 of the best 12 or so teams in Canada, but worth pointing out.
The single Pre-Trials spot? That’s a toughie for me. I think that will further hammer down the gap between the very top teams and the tier below, as teams will be disincentivized from staying together and getting better when they feel like they might be banging their heads against the wall for a single spot they could only get after a nuclear week at Pre-Trials, and then likely getting blitzed at Trials.
I think the two spots was crucial to keeping teams in that tier together and developing. Further evidence of that? The aforementioned 2013. Remember that Brad Jacobs actually lost the A Final of the Pre-Trials in 2013 to John Morris. So under this format, they would’ve been eliminated despite being the defending Brier champs and consensus best team in Canada at that moment. With all due respect, I’m not sure John Morris or Kevin Martin (2013 Roar of the Rings semi-finalist with Dave Nedohin at third) get the job done in Sochi, but Brad did. It’s curious, but again, I do think that upper tier is stratifying itself SO clearly now (and the Brier winner once again is guaranteed a spot) that it’s probably not a huge issue from this perspective.
I actually REALLY like the best-of-3 in the Pre-Trials. I think the gap in the Pre-Trials teams will be MUCH closer and with the teams being a little less good overall, that extra game in the series will do really well to help the best team get out of the Pre-Trials. And I guess we can talk about dates.
Pre-Trials October, Trials November. Curling fans are once again asking why that hasn’t changed. I have talked to curlers who have won Trials in past years, and a lot are sort of mixed on the timeframe. Some say it’s fine (or even preferable), others say it’s not enough. I’m not sure there’s a correct answer, but I am pretty sure that the curling calendar is just so set that I’m not sure where else you put it.
You can’t really put it a year in advance because that’s Brier/Scotties season. You already devalue one Brier/Scotties when it’s held in an Olympic year (Olympic teams often aren’t there, teams are on the verge of exploding, etc.), you can’t devalue a second by having teams laser-focused on winning a Trials and not caring about the nationals as much. And you can’t put it in April/May and compete with the NHL playoffs and have your world reps absolutely exhausted from trying to win that competition and then rolling into a Trials process as well.
So what do you do? Put it in September? Curling teams would hate that too. They’d feel they wouldn’t have the appropriate amount of time to peak with the lack of summer competitions/ice. Even October is pushing it for that sort of thing. Gushue qualified last Olympics and was VERY deliberate about his winter planning, never playing two events in a row and only playing four before the Trials. You think he and the other teams would wanna cram in 4 (or even 3) events in 6 weeks before Trials? I don’t. And then that also pushes Pre-Trials to September and that’s no good for anyone either. It’s just tricky and easily the hardest part about the decision for Curling Canada. Your options are either to shift the entire calendar that has grown like symbiotic moss on the tree of TSN’s programming, or maybe have the Trials too close to the Olympics.
And then, as if the Olympics weren’t enough, we get some Brier/Scotties nuggies and much like the 8th to 10th McNugget in a 10-piece at 1 am, it’s a lot to digest. Eliminating tiebreakers is fine. It’ll hurt next year when a team gets knocked out and goes “ah shit, if this was last year, we might still be alive!!!” and then we’ll all get over it. With the playoffs being so long, it’s so hard to win out of a tiebreaker anyway. Too many games in too little time to make it work. I’m good with that change and I sense the athletes will be too.
Modified playoff format! It appears it’s now…TWO Page Playoffs? The absolute loudest complaint we heard from fans last year (and some players) is that, well, look. Curling is a hard game to explain anyway. And that’s just the rules of the game being played on the ice. When you make the off-ice/scheduling stuff hard to explain, it just can’t be good for the casual viewer. I think 18 teams is the right number and while I know there’s never gonna be a playoff format that satisfies everyone, a double Page isn’t it either I don’t think. We’ll see how it plays out and then we can decide, but it still feels too convoluted to me.
Well, well, well….what do we have here? A change that got brought up a lot this season, I think this does a world of good for the Tier 2 of the game. I think there’s just so much here to unpack that I have touched on before in past newsletters, but I am glad they managed to get the Member Associations to buy in. For example, right now, Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones will have berths in next year’s Scotties. But sitting fourth? Kaitlyn Lawes. So let’s pretend it’s her and JJ that get the berth instead. You’re now telling a small Manitoba town that’s got their arena all prepped for the Scotties and wants to sell tickets that Einarson, Lawes, and Jones all won’t be there. Tough sell. Won’t happen often (and isn’t even happening this year!), but how close it is to happening this year shows how it could happen in the future. Great for the Beth Petersons and Meghan Walters of the world and I think great for the game. Just glad the MAs were able to see that part of it (or got forced into it, ha).
Speaking of Jennifer Jones…with Mack Zack announcing her stepping away, you gotta think that Scotties spot all but cinches that team sticking together. I wasn’t sure but that added berth has gotta do it. Also, must be cool to be a curling team in April of 2023 thinking, “oh wow. In two weeks I clinch a spot in the nationals. Yesterday I didn’t know this.”
On that subject, it is a little surprising that CC continues to make these sorts of announcements in between quads. You have to think that if they had made this announcement last offseason, at least a few squads would be different. I think with the mass retirement that faces the men’s game in particular in 2026, you are gonna see teams go very hard for this amorphous Wild Card spot and paying zero attention to provincial lines. A few curlers I talked to this week agreed with me, on both counts.
I tweeted this out this week, but for me, this is the year to watch. You could have a 4-person team not only clinch a spot in the Brier, but now know they are free to add a player from ANYWHERE for a final Olympics push. It might seem unlikely that a top-4 team would change the mix that late, but there’s actually quite a bit of precedent for it. I do wonder if a team gets really creative in that final year to shake up the mix a little bit and really go for it with zero consequences from a Brier/Scotties perspective. Will be worth looking out for.
Another very fun wrinkle? This wording:
That last line suggests that a team could become residency-compliant and thus…a team doesn’t really need to have residency at all. How is that possible you say? Well, in effect, this would allow teams to break residency rules for most of the year. So for ease, let’s say this system stays in effect for 2026-27, where the first year of a quad, it’s just down to points right before/right after provincial playdowns (we all know too many teams blow up at a quad end for them to keep the system rolling through the Summer of 2026—there’s a reason the press release stops there).
A team at the start of 26-27 thus elects to have their 4 members come from 3 different provinces. They had a ton of points they all bring from their respective teams and feel pretty good about getting that post-provincial WC berth. They get the Wild Card berth in Year 1, but then the Wild Card rules for end-of-season come back into play for 27-28. This would be a team like Karsten Sturmay, for example. They’re Wild Card 3 this year, but won’t be getting one of the EOS berths for next year.
So our Team from 3 different provinces is now told in April, “hey, you didn’t get the berth this year, back in the pool”. Lucky enough, it’s already April. Season’s done. You don’t even need to be residency-compliant until September. So two of the guys already live in the same province. One guy moves into that province for September-January, the fourth guy stays as the import. And wouldn’t you know it, they win that province and have a nice showing at the Brier, and they get the WC spot from 28-29. And on and on. You could essentially have a 4-year team living in 3 (or 4) different provinces while having one person move for a total of 8 months over 4 years, if the timing plays out right. Do I think that’s likely? Not really. But is it possible? Yes. And that continued flattening of the very top of the game is cause for concern.
But that…is for a much longer newsletter. Thanks as always for reading. I’m at the SGI Canada Best of the West this weekend in Saskatoon calling some great U30 curling action. This tournament had such a special vibe last year and I’m greatly looking forward to it again this year. You can follow all the action on Curling Canada’s YouTube page.
And! I’ve got a great new episode of Way Inside! coming out tomorrow (or I guess today, now, as I type this) with Kerry Galusha. We had an awesome and revealing chat and she actually breaks some news on my show, which is a first and was very fun. So tune in! Those chats have been a blast and if you like this newsletter, you’d like those too. Follow me on Twitter at @cullenoncurling and if you want to get this newsletter delivered to your inbox every time I write it, please subscribe. It’s free and means a lot to me.