Scotties ready to get underway with new format

The Canadian Press
Emanuel Sequeira

PENTICTON, B.C.–Opinions are a bit mixed among Canada’s best women’s curlers on the new format for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The national championship, which begins today at the South Okanagan Events Centre, has been changed from a 12- to a 16-team field this year.
The four-team qualification round has been scrapped and instead of one big round-robin draw, the field now is divided into two eight-team pools.
Calgary’s Chelsea Carey, the 2016 Scotties champ, is not crazy about the changes.
“I think it’s the only way they could do it without relegation,” she said.
“It’s kind of the only option.”
For the first time, every provincial and territorial association has a direct entry into the main draw.
Those 14 teams will be joined by Team Canada’s Michelle Englot–a replacement for Olympics-bound Rachel Homan–along with the winner of a play-in game tonight between Carey and Kerri Einarson.
The wild-card game is a match-up of the top two teams from the Canadian Team Ranking System list that didn’t qualify out of their provincial/territorial championships.
Carey holds the No. 2 CTRS position while Einarson, from Winnipeg, is fourth.
“They are a really good team,” said Carey. “We know that we will have to play our best to give ourselves a chance.
“We have played them a fair bit,” she noted. “It won’t be anything that we haven’t experienced before.
“It should be a really good game.”
Round-robin play begins tomorrow, with the top four teams in each pool advancing to the championship pool starting Feb. 1.
The top four teams from that will advance to the Page playoffs, with the final set for Feb. 4.
Newfoundland and Labrador skip Stacie Curtis, who has played in four Scotties, thinks the new format will have an immediate impact since there are fewer round-robin games to play.
“It certainly puts a little bit more pressure on you opening weekend,” she said.
Carey, meanwhile, doesn’t like that the full round-robin has been removed.
“That was just a huge part of the Scotties for me,” she remarked. “Now you are not playing every team.
“There can be discrepancy in the pool, one stronger, one weaker,” she noted.
“[But] couldn’t have done it any other way with having as many teams as they have now.”
With some curling minnows in the field against some powerhouse teams, the format opens the door for more blowouts.
“I mean, there is still going to be plenty of good games,” Carey stressed. “It’s not a disaster in that sense.”
Carey’s team comes in on a roll after winning a Grand Slam event last week in Camrose, Alta. After falling in the provincial playoffs, she’s happy to have another chance at qualifying for the nationals.
“I would prefer to know that I was going to be playing all week but I’m grateful for the opportunity,” she reasoned.
Curtis said she likes the addition of the wild-card game since it will add another great team to the mix.
“They have played all year to get their points,” she noted.
“The fact that they didn’t qualify through their provincials and get a second opportunity, I think that is great.”
Five-time Scotties champ Jennifer Jones of Manitoba headlines this year’s field. She’ll have Shannon Birchard at vice-skip since Kaitlyn Lawes is preparing to compete at the Winter Games in mixed doubles.
Other notable rinks include Nova Scotia’s Mary-Anne Arsenault, Alberta’s Casey Scheidegger, Northern Ontario’s Tracy Fleury, Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson, and Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories.
Nanaimo’s Kesa Van Osch will represent the host B.C. team.
The field is rounded out by Quebec’s Emilia Gagne, Nunavut’s Amie Shackleton, New Brunswick’s Sylvie Robichaud, Yukon’s Chelsea Duncan, Ontario’s Hollie Duncan, and Robyn MacPhee of P.E.I.
The chances of a surprise team or two in the playoff mix have increased significantly this year.
It’s unclear how the Jones rink will play with a replacement at third, Homan is not back to defend her title, and elite skips like Val Sweeting, Sherry Middaugh, and Krista McCarville are not in the field.
The lack of depth could provide an opening if a team can get hot. When round-robin play begins, there will be only four teams ranked in the top 10 (No. 1 Jones, Carey or Einarson, No. 8 Scheidegger, and No. 9 Englot).
Only eight of the 16 teams are in the top 50 and only 12 of the 16 teams are in the top 100.
Three teams (Nunavut, Quebec, and Yukon) do not have any CTRS points at all.