Every time the Canadian Olympic curling trials roll around pundits, players, coaches and fans marvel at the talent. “It’s the best field ever” they say every four years. And so as the sixth iteration of the trials gets underway, many are saying this is the best field of teams ever and it’s hard to argue.
The Roar of the Rings begins Saturday in Ottawa and runs until Dec.10. Eighteen teams will be competing, nine from each gender, but only one men’s and one women’s team will earn the right to wear the maple leaf in South Korea.
The Olympic gold medallists from four years ago are back to defend their titles. Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs will both be looking to do what no Canadian team has ever done, going back to the Games to defend their championships.
Then there are the current reigning world champion teams, led by skips Rachel Homan and Brad Gushue. Homan is coming off winning the Scotties and followed that up by becoming the first-ever team to go undefeated at worlds to capture gold.
Gushue is coming off winning his first-ever Brier championship and then followed it up by also going undefeated at worlds to capture gold. Gushue also won Olympic gold in 2006. The team’s third, Mark Nichols, was there too.
Homan’s squad comes into the trials with a lot of momentum. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
There’s no question these four teams have a lot going for them as the trials near. But in a country that has an embarrassment of curling riches, don’t be surprised to see many of the other teams fighting for playoff spots at the end of the week.
Men’s field stacked
Joining Jacobs and Gushue are the rinks skipped by Kevin Koe, Reid Carruthers, Mike McEwen, John Epping, Steve Laycock, John Morris and Brendan Bottcher.
Throughout many of these teams’ lineups, you’ll find past Olympic champions, world champions and Brier champions.
Take for instance the Koe Rink, who has Kevin Martin’s 2010 Olympic champion front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Herbert. John Morris also played on that team, now skipping his B.C. team at the trials.
Koe’s squad has some championship pedigree in Kennedy, second from the left, and Hebert, far right. (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via Associated Press)
All of these teams qualified through a number of various ways — some by winning past Briers, the Canada Cup, their rankings from the Canadian Team Ranking System and through the pre-trials event last month in Summerside, P.E.I.
The teams will play an eight game round-robin. The first place team goes directly to the final, while the second and third place teams will play in the semifinal. The winner of that game moves onto the championship game.
Some familiar and new faces on women’s side
Joining Jones and Homan are the teams skipped by Michelle Englot, Krista McCarville, Chelsea Carey, Val Sweeting, Julie Tippin, Allison Flaxey and Casey Scheidegger.
Englot brings a wealth of experience to the trials and is coming off a silver-medal performance with her Manitoba team in last year’s Scotties. Carey, from Calgary, is the 2016 Scotties champion. Thunder Bay’s McCarville team captured silver at the Scotties in 2016.
Sweeting has had a strong Tour season and is also the 2014 and 2015 Scotties silver-medallist. Scheidegger, Tippin and Flaxey are all somewhat relatively new to the national curling scene but cannot be discounted to make a push for the playoffs.
The women, like the men, will play a round-robin tournament of eight games. The first place team goes directly to the final. The second and third place teams will square off in the semifinal with the winner advancing to the final.
History of curling excellence
Since curling became an official part of the Olympic program in 1998, Canadian teams have come home with a medal each time. That impressive streak started at the Nagano Games, when Saskatchewan’s Sandra Schmirler won gold and Ontario’s Mike Harris brought home silver.
Four years later in Salt Lake City, Kevin Martin won silver and Kelley Law took home the bronze for Canada. Then, in Torino, Gushue won gold and Shannon Kleibrink won bronze.
At the Olympics on home soil in Vancouver, Martin got back to the Games and was able to win gold. Cheryl Bernard was the silver-medallist there.
In 2014, Jones and Jacobs set the gold medal curling standard by both winning gold for Canada.
Now, the journey back to the top of the Olympic podium starts all over for Canada at the Roar of the Rings in Ottawa this week.
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