VITERRA CHAMPIONSHIP DATE, VENUE CHANGED

SUPPOSED TO START TODAY but announced earlier in the month…CurlManitoba’s Viterra Championship will be played in the Selkirk Curling Club, February 9-13.

At the time of cancellation, 28 teams had qualified for the Viterra Championship. Only the Brandon Bonspiel (one berth) and Manitoba Open (three berths) had yet to be determined. The championship will go ahead with the 28 teams already identified – logical to assume the top four seeds will get first round byes. Hard to say if that’s a good thing or not – ice conditions will dictate whether there is an advantage to playing a lesser team in the opening round as a chance to acclimatize!

The championship carries with it an invitation to represent Manitoba at the Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge in early March. A very few Manitoba teams have a chance to move up the CTRS list to earn a shot at one of the three available wildcard entries in the Brier.

Brad Gushue’s Olympic team is currently #1 and appears to be so far ahead on the CTRS list that they would be a certain wildcard entry. However, the standing rule is that it is highest ranking CTRS teams after provincial playdowns and Team Gushue opted out. However, the Nfld-Labradon provincial men’s was canceled. If not re-scheduled, it would seem to open the door for them to come home from the Olympics and play the Brier as either the appointed NL rep or as a wildcard team.

Kevin Koe (#2) has already won Alberta and Brendan Bottcher (#7) is Team Canada so they are not part of the wild card discussion.

Status of Brad Jacobs (#4) and Glenn Howard (#5) is up in the air. Currently they are certain wild card selections. The Northern Ontario playoff has been postponed with no re-schedule date. When the Scotties starts this week Krista McCarville’s team has been selected as the Northern Ontario rep – the parallel men’s decision would be to select Team Jacobs and remove them from the wildcard discussion.

Howard may still have to play the Ontario Tankard. It has been re-scheduled to February 9-13, the same time as Manitoba’s Viterra event.

Jason Gunnlaugson’s team is currently ranked #5 so they currently hold the third wild card position. Mike McEwen’s foursome is #8 behind Matt Dunstone (#6). Dunstone’s status will also be determined February 9-13 when the Saskatchewan Tankard playoff occurs. If he doesn’t win Saskatchewan, he needs a high finish to move up the CTRS into a wild card spot.

John Epping is currently #9. Like Howard in Ontario, Dunstone in Saskatchewan, and McEwen in Manitoba, if they don’t win they need a high finish to be in the wildcard conversation.

Of the lesser ranked Manitoba teams, it seems likely only one has even a remote shot at the wild card spots. Tanner & Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Emerson Klimpke, still listed as Team Pat Simmons, are at #13. If they were to lose the Manitoba final, depending on results in other provinces, they might (but seems unlikely) jump far enough up the list.

The others, starting with Braden Calvert (#18) and Riley Smith (#19) have one chance of a trip to Brier – they have to win in Selkirk.

The teams qualified for Manitoba’s Viterra Championship represent curling clubs and communities across Manitoba. They are:

Assiniboine Memorial: Braden Calvert
Assiniboine Memorial: Jacques Gauthier
Assiniboine Memorial: JT Ryan
Assiniboine Memorial: Riley Smith
Assiniboine Memorial: Brett Walter
Baldur: Grant Shewfelt
Beausejour: Justin Richter
Burntwood: Sam Antila
Carberry: Kelly Marnoch
Carman: Dean North
Deer Lodge: Sean Grassie
Deer Lodge: Jordon McDonald
Fort Garry: Corey Chambers
Fort Rouge: Mark Lukowich
Fort Rouge: Evan Martin
Fort Rouge: Ryan Wiebe
Gladstone: Jeff Stewart
Granite: William Lyburn
Granite: Richard Muntain
LaSalle: Randy Neufeld
Morden: Ryan Thomson
Morris: Jason Gunnlaugson
Pembina: Daniel Birchard
Pembina: Jack Hykaway
Pilot Mound: Kyle McCannell
Virden: Graham Freeman
West St. Paul: Mike McEwen
Winnipeg Beach: Colton Lott

NEUFELD WINS SOUTHCENTRAL SUPERLEAGUE

Randy Neufeld continued his winning ways Saturday at Portage when he and his team (Dean Moxham, Devon Wiebe, Brett Moxham) won three games to win the South Central SuperLeague championship.

Neufeld beat Ryan Thomson in the final game, following earlier wins over Mike Zacharias and Dean North.

The Neufeld team had finished in a second place round robin tie, with a 5W – 2L record, in the pre-Christmas league play. Darryl Bachalo and Thomson were also at 5W – 2L, behind David Hamblin’s 6W – 1L record.

Neufeld’s team earned the $1,200 winning share of the $4,000 total league prize purse. Bachalo lost his opening game and dropped to the ‘consolation’ event, where a pair of wins earned his team $600 – the same amount as Thomson’s team picked up for their finalist finish.

LEAGUE ROUND-ROBIN STANDINGS

6-1 David Hamblin
5-2 Darryl Bachalo
5-2 Randy Neufeld
5-2 Ryan Thomson
3-4 Kyle McCannell
2-5 Dean North
2-5 Ryan Hyde
0-7 Mike Zacharias

HOMAN & MORRIS “PROUD & HONOURED”

“Excited to be going”, “grateful for the opportunity”, “proud & honoured to be named Team Canada” – Rachel Homan and John Morris echoed each other’s comments in today’s media availability shortly after the announcement was made that they would represent Canada in the Olympic Mixed Doubles competition in Beijing. They’ll leave Canada in 16 days and in the meantime will do their best to avoid the Omicron virus’s best efforts to derail the plan.

“Whether you’re Curling Canada or an athlete, it’s not how you want it to go down,” Morris said. “I wanted to play against Canada’s best to win it but unfortunately that couldn’t happen.”

“It’s the way it had to be done,” he said and he carefully avoided the question if being selected added extra pressure compared with winning the chance in head-to-head competition.

“Whenever you are Team Canada, regardless of how it happens, there is going to be pressure. I love the pressure – I want to play in it and so does Rachel.”

Homan and Morris have known each other for most of 30 years and when Mixed Doubles was launched in Canada, they began competing together. They have been very successful when they have had the chance to play together, winning some 30 events.

They did not compete in the 2017 Trials simply because Homan’s team had won the 4’s Trials and she was replaced by Kaitlyn Lawes. Lawes & Morris went on to win the Gold Medal in Pyeongchang.

While Homan’s team fell short of the medals in Korea, it must be remembered that she has succeeded at the international level in Asia – specifically in Beijing where she won the World Women’s in 2017. She will draw on both experiences in her return to the Olympics.

Coach Scott Pfeifer, speaking for Curling Canada made it clear that Homan-Morris were a logical choice noting that they have had a long and successful career together and that they both have very strong international and Olympic experience.

Morris & Homan will be on the ice in the next few days in a full training camp designed to get them ready for Beijing. Morris says it will be a different experience from the two previous Olympics where he won gold medals but he knows it will be a great experience. Clearly, they will go planning to soak it all in but also recognizing the need for dedication to best effort to bring back a medal.

While not providing details, Pfeifer says Curling Canada is putting in place contingency plans if it turns out, between now and departure day, that any member of any of the Canadian Olympic curling team contingent are unable to attend.

It was also made clear in the news conference that there will be discussion of timing before the next Olympic Trials process is defined. When this year’s Trials in Saskatoon and Portage were determined, the pandemic was still in the future. With the benefit of lessons learned, the potential for future wholesale cancellation has to be considered in both timing and the entire process.

Also for future discussion, the question of whether Canada’s 4-player team members should be excluded from Mixed Doubles.

“That’s how it is for this quadrennial,” Pfeifer said. “Curling Canada wants them to have full focus on the team game. If they play right to the Gold Medal game in Mixed Doubles, which we expect, it overlaps with the start of the teams’ competition. There is also the physical and mental toll. (For this quadrennial at least) we think it increases podium potential for all of the teams.”

That’s for next time, however. For this time, Rachel Homan and John Morris will be as prepared as they possibly can be when they play their first game at 7PM (CST), February 2 against Great Britain.

HOMAN-MORRIS NAMED CANADA’S MIXED DOUBLES TEAM

(Curling Canada News Release – January 13) A pair of Olympians and former world champions will represent Canada in mixed doubles curling at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, it was announced jointly today by the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Curling Canada.

Morris-Homan
(Photo from Curling Canada website)

Rachel Homan (Beaumont, Alta.) and John Morris (Canmore, Alta.), along with national coach Scott Pfeifer (Sherwood Park, Alta.), will play their first game at the National Aquatics Centre (AKA the Ice Cube) in Beijing on Feb. 2 at 8:05 p.m. ET against the Great British duo of Jennifer Dodds and Bruce Mouat, the reigning world mixed doubles champions.

It will be Morris’s third trip to the Winter Olympics and an opportunity to be a three-time Olympic gold-medallist. He teamed with Kaitlyn Lawes in 2018 at PyeongChang to win the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles gold medal, and also played vice-skip for Kevin Martin’s four-player men’s team that claimed gold in 2010 at Vancouver. He is a three-time champion at the Tim Hortons Brier, and a member of Martin’s 2008 world championship gold-medal team.

Homan will be playing in her second Olympics, having skipped Canada’s women’s team in 2018 in PyeongChang. Homan, a three-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion, also skipped her team to a world women’s championship gold medal in 2017 in Beijing at the Capital Indoor Stadium — just 17 minutes away from the Ice Cube curling venue.

“John and I are eager to get to Beijing and make Canada proud,” said Homan. “We know these are difficult circumstances, and we truly appreciate the faith being shown in us by Curling Canada.”

“Rachel and I have played a lot of mixed doubles together over the years with the dream of playing for Canada at the Olympics,” added Morris. “We can’t wait to get over there and give it our best. We know it’s a tough field, but we’ve worked extremely hard this season and we’ll be fighting hard for gold in Beijing.”

Canada’s Olympic mixed doubles team was supposed to be the winner of the Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Trials that were scheduled for Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man. But positive tests for COVID-19 among athletes who were scheduled to attend, along with the potential for more cases during the event, forced Curling Canada to cancel the Trials and select a team to nominate to the COC.“After cancelling the Trials, we engaged in extensive consultation with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium and it became increasingly apparent that the nomination criteria for selecting athletes should put a premium on experience on the world championship and Olympic stage, as well as experience and success playing together in mixed doubles,” said Katherine Henderson, Chief Executive Officer of Curling Canada. “We are blessed with an amazing pool of mixed doubles players, and I feel nothing but compassion for the curlers who were to compete in the Trials and had that opportunity taken from them by the pandemic. But we are confident that Rachel and John will make Canada proud in Beijing.”

Homan and Morris, both originally from Ottawa and now playing out of the Canmore Golf and Curling Club, have extensive experience in the mixed doubles discipline. They were slated to team up at the 2017 Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials before Homan’s four-player women’s team prevailed at the 2017 Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials. Morris then teamed with Lawes to win the mixed doubles trials and went on to the Olympic gold a few weeks later.

Homan and Morris won a silver medal at the 2017 Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship, and earlier this season topped a world-class field to win the Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic in Canmore and Banff, Alta., beating the duo of Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant (both 2022 Olympians in four-player curling) in the final.

Team Jennifer Jones (Winnipeg) and Team Brad Gushue (St. John’s, N.L.) will be Canada’s four-player teams at the Winter Olympics.

Prior to being named to Team Canada, all nominations are subject to approval by the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Team Selection Committee following its receipt of nominations by all National Sport Organizations.

“We fully support the adjustment made by Curling Canada in their team selection criteria for mixed doubles under the extraordinary circumstances, and we are excited to watch Team Canada compete,” said Eric Myles, Chief of Sport for the Canadian Olympic Committee.

“Every sport has been impacted differently around qualifying Olympic quota spots as a result of COVID-19, and the cancellation of the mixed doubles curling trials in Canada is another example of that,” added Anne Merklinger, chief executive officer, Own the Podium. “We are fortunate in Canada to have significant depth in our national curling program. While it is unfortunate the nation’s elite curling athletes were not able to compete head-to-head for the opportunity to represent Canada in Beijing during these unprecedented times, we are thrilled that Curling Canada has been able to find a solution to field a strong team at the Olympic Winter Games.”

CLICK HERE for the full Olympic curling schedule. CBC will provide full broadcast coverage of the Olympic Winter Games on its various platforms.

WHO SHOULD REP CANADA IN MIXED DOUBLES IN BEIJING?

There’s been a lot of talk about who should represent Canada in the Olympic Mixed Double competition so I thought I’d weigh in before the announcement is made. It has to come pretty soon!

There have been several pairings suggested as Curling Canada faces the never before situation of having to name a team.

In my mind there is only one team who can be named for which the logic of nomination cannot be criticized. That would be if the decision is to have John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes compete. Send the reigning Olympic Gold Medalists back to defend the title. Their competitive successes since 2018 show their talent is unabated and they have proven ability in the International Mixed Doubles arena.

The one small issue is that asking Kaitlyn to compete in both Mixed Doubles and 4’s with Team Jones would be contrary to standing Curling Canada policy of not having a player represent us in both disciplines.

That’s not a big issue in these unprecedented times – and I wouldn’t even worry about someone claiming it as a precedent at some future time. It would be easy to argue it was a unique time which demanded unique circumstances.

However, for the record, I would not favour the Lawes-Morris solution. The concern about negatively impacting results of the Jones team is real. I acknowledge both results are possible given that USA’s Matt Hamilton finished 6th in Mixed Doubles at the 2018 Olympics and then won gold with John Shuster but Becca Hamilton finished 6th in Mixed Doubles and 8th in the Women’s event at the same Olympics.

Some say send Kerri Einarson and Brad Gushue, as defending Canadian champions. I can see the arguments in their favour but my Lawes logic applies to Gushue as well.

Some say send Kaitlyn Lawes and Brad Gushue – two talented elite athletes who will already be on site. I like that logic but at the same time I worry about the impact on results for both teams.

Some say Kerri Einarson and Brad Jacobs (Gushue’s appointed replacement). I can’t see this one – Jacobs is one of the greatest players of our time but he has no Mixed Doubles experience – or at least his name does not appear on the CMDR (Canadian Mixed Doubles Ranking), even in the 37 teams with zero points, all ranked below #282.

And in my mind – the key to the nomination is international Mixed Doubles EXPERIENCE and SUCCESS as a team.

In 2017, in Lethbridge, I watched Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers play under the incredible pressure of having to win Canada a spot in the Olympics. My observation was that they succeeded for two reasons: first, they were (and are) incredibly talented players and second, they adapted their game as the event progressed. They had beaten Canadians to earn the right to play in Lethbridge but they knew they were inexperienced at the international game and they adopted strategy played against them and used it to beat the next team they played.

In the years since, Canada’s World Mixed Doubles results have shown no improvement – in other words we have yet to win a World Mixed Doubles championship sending the champion developed through our current system. We were all delighted when Einarson-Gushue earned Canada a spot in the 2022 Olympics but admittedly were less excited that they missed the medals at the Worlds.

I am thinking it is time we sent a more specialized Mixed Doubles team to major international events rather than hoping two talented players can combine their skills for a couple of weeks and win at the international level. We will only win long-term in the International Mixed Doubles arena when we compete with teams who play Mixed Doubles regularly, if not exclusively.

So if not Lawes and Morris, who I have already said I would understand but disagree with, I am in favour of sending a team to Beijing based on two primary considerations.

#1: The CMDR and I mean the pure one – the CMDR which ranks only the performance based on Mixed Doubles competition and does not bring in the individual CTRS-4’s team successes.

#2: Success in international Mixed Doubles competition

Only after weighing these two would I consider #3: performance in the Canadian championship and #4: the contributions to the CMDR of the players’ 4’s team successes.

When I look at the pure CMDR list, four teams in the top eight meet my #2 criteria – international Mixed Doubles success. The top two, Nancy Martin & Tyrel Griffith and Clancy Grandy & Patrick Janssen, lack significant international experience.

Kadriana Sahaidak & Colton Lott: Ranked #3 on CMDR, they have had very good success at the Canadian Championship (silver medal 2018 & 2021) but more important they have proven themselves internationally. They won gold in one of the three preliminary round events of the 2018-19 season’s Curling World Cup and they finished tied for third in the rankings at the series grand final event. That event was held in China so an extra bonus in selecting this team is that they have already had the experience of playing in the Olympic host nation.

Curling Canada Photo

Jocelyn Peterman & Brett Gallant: Ranked #6 on CMDR, they also have success internationally as a team. They won the Canadian Championship and the World Silver Medal in 2019. They also have the advantage (or disadvantage) of already planning to be in Beijing with the Jones and Gushue teams. That of course fits my Lawes argument on both sides and I wouldn’t want to risk results for the two 4’s teams despite the fact this pair is ranked #1 when the CTRS is rolled into the rankings discussion.

Curling Canada Photo

Laura Walker & Kirk Muyres: Ranked #7 on CMDR, they have the same (in fact slightly better) success internationally as a team as Sahiadak-Lott. They won gold in one of the World Cup preliminary events and silver in the grand final event in China. Added weight for them is that Muyres was the 2018 Canadian Champion and World Bronze Medalist (partnered with Laura Crocker).

Photo from Curling Canada website

Rachel Homan – John Morris: Ranked #8 on CMDR, purely on their names, they might be the logical choice of these four. Morris is the reigning gold medallist, a world champion and an accomplished Mixed Doubles player. Homan is a world champion, and an Olympian who has been in that arena, and she is surely motivated to win an Olympic medal to balance the 2018 results.

**

No matter who the choice is, there will be much more criticism than kudos. If that teams falls short of the medals there will be a different kind of criticism than if Teams Gushue &/or Jones fall short.

All I can say is I’m glad it is not my decision. There are 10 or a dozen teams who could logically be chosen – and they would all do it with pride. There just is no guarantee it is going to work but I will always maintain that an experienced Mixed Doubles team with a proven international track record is our best bet for a Mixed Doubles medal in Beijing.