Ladies and gentlemen: It's time to roar
by Colin Hodgson, with files from Meghan Knutson
WINNIPEG – As I've successfully packed the proper undergarments and toiletries to get me through an undoubtedly sleepless week in Winterpeg, I can’t help but revel in what has to be the most complete field in any event in curling history.
Just to be safe, however, I'll be checking out page 3 of the December issue of The Curling News at the arena shortly, where all the fields (and win/loss records) have been published dating back to 1997, and for which TCN is asking folks to tweet in with their choice of "best ever".
Guaranteed, however, that I will have forgotten some crucial items – such as socks or a hat to hide the entangled mop on my head I call hair.
Who can blame me though? It’s hard not to be excited (or confused between curling fields and hotel essentials) for what is sure to be one hell of an event. A remarkably fierce yet balanced field complements a brilliant MTS Centre – home of the Jets – and a highly intelligent curling crowd of Winnipeggers sprinkled with fans from across the country.
Follow me this week on my adventures at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, right here at The Curling News Blog, and take in what so many believe to be the pinnacle of the sport. Get an insider's view of your favorite competitors and learn about some of those you might not be so familiar with. Let's buckle up now, in fact, and get started with my preview (with help from Meghan Knutson) of the 2013 field...
Team Renée Sonnenberg: This northern Alberta foursome barged through the Road to the Roar in Kitchener last month in a dominant fashion. While the team has struggled to find consistency on tour, there were no visible deficiencies to their game in the Olympic Pre-trials as they walked through the competition unscathed. If Sonnenberg can put together a similar performance in Winnipeg, she just might play spoiler to the favorites.
Team Chelsea Carey: The daughter of Manitoba curling hall of famer Dan Carey, Chelsea has lived and breathed the sport over the past four years leading to this Olympic Trials berth. Arguably the most intense competitor on the ice, Carey has experienced peaks and valleys over the last few years. Much like fellow Winnipeggers Team McEwen, this squad has been at the top rungs of the sport on the Grand Slam circuit with, however, a lack of final-game success at the provincial level. Can Team Carey sport the Maple Leaf on their backs in Sochi before their first Manitoba Buffalo at the Canadian women's championship?
Team Jennifer Jones: Team Jones has been as dominant as anyone over the four-year Olympic qualifying process. Developing their own brand in the eyes of curling fans over their curling career, there is sure to be no lack of support at home for this team. Expect to see Jones thrive off of the boisterous crowd in high-pressure situations. Experience, as always, will play huge a factor over the mentally strenuous week, and Jones has a plentiful amount of just that. Plus, Jones has struggled at the past two Olympic Trials, and that's got to be gnawing at her.
Team Heather Nedohin: The acrobatic Albertan is back on the big stage two years after her STOH victory in Red Deer. Nedohin wears her heart on her sleeve, making her an awkward photography favorite. The key to success for this team is their uncanny ability to grind out wins with timely shotmaking. That famous word sh*tballs will likely be in the public eye – um, ear – if Nedohin is around come the weekend.
Team Valerie Sweeting: A bit of a surprise team out of the Road to the Roar, Valerie Sweeting certainly turned a few heads. The southpaw skipper put together a very solid week leaving some heavy favorites in her wake. Riding the high of Kitchener, the young Albertans have nothing to lose at these Olympic Trials, which can be a scary thing for the competition. Look for Team Sweeting to play spoiler at least a few times as this young team continues to grow stronger with age.
Team Stefanie Lawton: The big question is which Stefanie Lawton is going to show up? The Grand Slam-winning powerhouse or the provincial final-challenged underachiever? When on her game, Lawton is lethal and typically unchallenged. On the other hand, they can’t seem to get over the hump of winning the Saskatchewan provincial final. Perhaps the lack of arena ice in Sasky women’s provincials has adverse effects on team results. Either way, the tour superstars needs to show up if they want a chance to experience Russian hospitality.
Team Sherry Middaugh: This veteran skip has shown signs of greatness on tour over the past couple of seasons, although lackluster performances at the Ontario provincial are an area of concern. Middaugh will need to keep it together, tidy up the small details to live up to their potential to make the playoffs. Once there, who knows what can happen?
Team Rachel Homan: Highly touted as the top-ranked women's team, Homan's been on the warpath, proving the young kids have got some game. Defending Canadian champions, world bronze medallists, Grand Slam winners, WCT titles and a TON of cash in the bank unquestionably show what Homan is capable of. We'll see this week if they really are Team Robot, and can systematically eliminate the field on their way to the Olympic Winter Games.
Team Kevin Martin: What hasn’t this team done? Olympic gold, multiple world titles, Grand Slams left and right, it goes on and on. Team Kevin Martin in its current form – recently adding four-time Brier champ David Nedohin at third) not only holds records, they completely obliterate what it means to be curling champions on all fronts. Toss in 2006 Olympic champion skip Brad Gushue as their fruit-cutting, granola bar-toting alternate in case of injury, and no curling guru will count these guys out of winning the big cheese. Vegas odds: 4.96
Team John Epping: Since he grabbed the last direct Olympic Trials men's berth over 2013 world finalist Brad Jacobs and Gushue, Team John Epping is definitely the dark horse in this stellar men's field. Statistically the lowest-ranked team at the Trials, this shock-and-awe team can play when all cylinders are firing. With a Player's Championship title two seasons ago, Epping knows he can win big games against this field. Whether they put it together at MTS Centre is unknown but either way, Epping is no stepping stone for the other teams vying for the long flight to Sochi. Vegas odds: 21.00
Team Brad Jacobs: The Muscle Machines are riding the wave right now. An incredibly hot 2013 season featuring a Brier win and worlds silver carried into the start of this season, as the Men of Curling Calendar models took three World Curling Tour event titles and nearly $44,000. Not too bad for some Northern Ontario boys from the Soo. The flame-throwers are looking to avoid being doused this week and continue what has been a dream 12 months, by any curling standards. Vegas odds: 6.36
Team Jeff Stoughton: For what will be his last kick at the only event that has eluded his grasp, Stoughton's arsenal is fully stocked with the addition of 2006 Olympic champion Mark Nichols, second Reid Carruthers and longtime superstar third Jon Mead. Stoughton will aim to leapfrog his second-place finish in 2005 and third-place 2009 experience by using the hometown crowd as leverage – the cheers and jeers of the Edmonton Brier last March will be in full effect at the MTS Centre this week, with huge support in Stoughton’s favor. The two-time world champ will be tough to beat, especially with his “white-out” crowd sporting that colour throughout the week. Vegas odds: 5.89
Team John Morris: Sharp-shooting heartthrob Johnny Mo is sure to be at the top of every eligible bachelorette’s Christmas wish list... but he's got only has one thing at the top of his: to shock the world and bring Jim Cotter’s B.C. troops over the hump. The controversial departure of Morris from Kevin Martin’s Alberta squad last April seems to have turned out well for all parties, and Cotter’s – or should I say Morris’ – display of shotmaking at the Road to the Roar in Kitchener is testament to how well Morris chose his new teammates. Judging by their recent form, don’t rule Morris out of making a splash. Vegas odds: 19.00
Team Mike McEwen: The young guns from the wicked west. It’s unfortunate to be a young team in a province boasting Jeff Stoughton; a 10 time provincial and three-time Brier winner. Lack of provincial titles aside, McEwen has proven time and time again that his squad is among the most elite. One of the hardest teams on tour to play against (trust me, I’ve taken my lumps against these guys), you can get great Vegas odds with McEwen; a team that has been the hottest foursome on the planet for extended periods of time over the last four years. Vegas odds: 8.07
Team Kevin Koe: Fresh off a Canadian Open victory and looking sharp, Team Koe is the last foursome that opponents want to see get hot. Brier and world champions in 2010, Koe has the big-weight cannon with pinpoint accuracy that few players in the world possess. It seems Kevin Koe has planned his season successfully to peak in Canada’s favorite frigid winter destination of Winnipeg. Vegas odds: 6.80
Team Glenn Howard: Much like Jeff Stoughton, Glenn Howard has done everything there is to do in the curling world except win an Olympic medal. Fifteen Brier appearances – yes, you read that right, 15 BRIER APPEARANCES – along with 14 medal-round finishes, four Brier titles and four world championships. Glenn Howard is the definition of consistency in the sport of curling, plain and simple. The top-rated team heading in, and with two of the best shooters in the history of the game at the back end, Wayne Middaugh and his buddy will undoubtedly be there on the second weekend, daring someone to take this one from them. Vegas Odds: 3.13
[Canadian Curling Association photos copyright ® by Michael Burns]