On the First Slam, Emerging Trends, and Way Inside
Things are heating up....
It’s been a busy few weeks as the first Grand Slam of the season wrapped up yesterday, the Players Open in Dundas saw a huge and impressive field, and some other stuff! Here’s a few thoughts:
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First in Six
Jennifer Jones wins another Slam, her first in 6 years. This current iteration of the team is such a hard one to predict. Obviously JJ is the GOAT and so on any given weekend, they can get it done, but last year was a year of wild swings. Winning the PointsBet. Second at the Scotties. Great results, but they couldn’t make it past the quarterfinals of a Slam, and missed the playoffs outright in two of them. This year, it was a similar start. Came second in the Saville Shoot-Out in a strong field but missed the playoffs in Dundas and Cornwall and lost in the Elite Eight to Christina Black at the PointsBet.
It would’ve been tough to put your money on them this weekend, but this is probably the best this team has looked in the last two seasons, and I’m even including the Scotties run there. Jenn was making the clutch shots, Emily is looking more and more comfortable in the house, and there’s a settled-in vibe to the team that I wasn’t sure was coming after the departure of Mackenzie Zacharias this offseason. We’ll see if this is the start of some consistency on the horizon.
Dreaming of Milan
It’s interesting to me how Joel Retornaz started telling people 2 years ago that his goal was to be competitive at their home Olympics in 2026, because, well…I didn’t believe him. They were surprisingly competitive at Joel’s last home Olympics in Torino in 2006 (they even beat Team Gushue), but that was sort of an accident. But 20 years later, this team might really be on to something. Two years ago, Amos was emerging as a talented player, but we hadn’t seen a strong Italian front end and Joel was 38 (now 40) and we hadn’t really ever seen him be dominant on the world stage. Now, two years into this and with a second Grand Slam under his belt, the podium actually feels very reachable for the newly-minted #2 team in the world.
It’s funny how quickly these things can come together for countries, where one or two talented players can finally find the right mix and all of a sudden they’re dynamite. Canada’s biggest strength used to be our depth and it’s teams like Retornaz who demonstrate that it’s turning into our biggest problem. The resources have to be split, and I’ve said it before but it’s just not a situation I envy for Curling Canada. Until something huge changes, we are never going to be able to support a super team system in this country. Our depth used to be a strength because iron sharpened iron and we were able to play top teams all the time and make each other better and European teams just didn’t have the resources to get over here all the time. Now with the Slams and the funding there for these international teams to play in Canada, they’re in all the same fields we are. We are still developing top talent but how quickly other countries are able to ascend is starting to get very scary (if it wasn’t already).
Boos for Tier Two
I’m only booing because the Ghostman, Daniel Casper, won the Tier 2 for the men’s, and it could catch on, like people chanting “Luuuuu” for Roberto Luongo when he made a save. I believe in my season preview article I talked about how Korey Dropkin was starting to emerge as a dominant American power but now I’m wondering if this is already a three-horse race. Last year in Penticton they had a fantastic run without Daniel even there, and with lead Chase Sinnett moving up to skip. I’ve been playing against Luc Violette since he was 12 years old and his dad was excellent curler in his day too, continuing Washington State excellence. As I like to say, these boys might have the juice…
And I am booing for Team Kim winning the Tier 2 for the women. Now look, this has nothing to do with Team Kim. Excellent team, beloved in their home country, the Garlic Girls!, etc etc. But I think one of the joyful stories every year in curling is the Tier 2 team that finally breaks through after years of trying. Greg Balsdon playing an unholy schedule in 2016 to get themselves into the Slam conversation and beating Glenn Howard to get in. Clancy Grandy winning last year to cement a hot start and never looking back. Team Kim are Slam veterans, having been at the Tier 1 level for a number of years, and it just takes away a little bit of that fun story. Plus, how good would it have been to see the runner-up, Madeline Dupont, find her way into the Slams after over a decade on the world scene? I’ll answer that for you: really good.
It was just a month ago that Team Mouat was off to a 13-1 start and won two straight events. Since then, it’s been a struggle, as they just scraped into the playoffs in Cornwall and then missed in Dundas and at this Slam. Watching them on TV this week, they looked disjointed. It’s early in the season, but Ross Whyte is starting to look like a legitimate boogeyman…speaking of emerging teams, it was nice to see Team Hasselborg get things back on track after they were beaten by Team Wrana for the Swedish Europeans berth. They won Dundas and had a strong semifinal run at the Slam. In Dundas, I got to see what they are dubbing “Circus Hasselborg” in action with Agnes and Anna’s two children and Sara’s one all on tour with them, along with their husbands. It’s amazing what teams are doing to compete at this level…I’ve been an active proponent of Team Bottcher’s all the way back into last season, as I never thought their struggles were rough as advertised. As with any good media member, I am happy to be proven right, as they’re the World #1 and certainly look it right now. Two things sticking out for me with them in this moment: first, they can win scrappy. They’re in lots of tight games and can win when they aren’t at their best. Second, they can win in different ways. They seem to have clear strategies to play certain teams with relatively clean houses and other teams with junky ones, and they win a lot of games with both…Brad Gushue is at a 66% winning percentage 3 events into the season. We don’t see that too often. Will be interesting to see how things go over the next little bit, though with the uneven competition, the PanCon could be a “get right” event for them…speaking of the Team Italy 2026 plan, Stefania Constantini’s team has really rounded into form. From not really being known to Olympic gold medalist to “she plays fours?” to 14 in the world. 2026 feels early for them, but we saw what home ice did for the aforementioned Team Kim in 2018…finally, great to see Sportsnet do two things for the first Slam of the year. One, the “Apres Curl”. The more welcoming things at an event, the better, though as I tweeted, it’s time to put something like that on the ice. And I don’t mean the Pinty’s Lounge behind the sheets. I mean on the ice. It’s time to go full darts, especially in playoffs when less sheets are in action. Bring the fans right up beside the sheets and let’s make this thing cook. Other thing I liked was my pal Robbie Doherty getting a debut as an on-ice/around the venue correspondent. Curling has a raft of great commentators but trying to get a bit younger in the presentation of the product won’t hurt. Commentators skew older in other sports too, but other sports have a ton of extra coverage off the air on YouTube/TikTok/podcasts/etc. Curling doesn’t, so we need to bring some younger voices to the airwaves.
Lastly, a personal note here. A lot of you have been asking me about Way Inside, particularly with the Grand Slams and Inside Curling starting up again. Sadly, I have to report that the podcast won’t be continuing this season. Sportsnet ran into some budget constraints and unfortunately, WI was among the cuts. I just wanted to take a quick opportunity to thank everyone for how great they were to me with regards to the show last season. We were trying something a little different for the curling world, and it meant so much to me to see all the kind words from everybody, whether that was on Twitter, in comments on here, from players, or from people who came up to me in person to talk curling with me. I won’t soon forget it. And I have to thank all the players who appeared on the show. You all trusted me to do something a little sillier and it made the show really great.
But don’t cry for me! I’ll still be here all year long on this Substack, which you can now support monetarily if you so choose (click the link in the top right corner or at the start of the newsletter), and I am working on a curling project I can’t say too much about right now, but I feel very confident you’re all going to like a great deal. Stay tuned for details on that in the coming weeks.
As always, your support means so much and we’ll see you back here next week as we recap the PanCon and the first Mixed Doubles event that I’ll cover in full, the Super Series in Moose Jaw.