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Monday, 23 May 2016

#BetweenTheBaselines: French Open 2016 Preview
Second major of the season often the most unpredictable


The Gods are smiling down on #TwineTime this weekend with the start of the French Open.  Thankfully the opening days of the second major on the tennis circuit have been littered with delays due to rainy weather.  Hmmmm rain?  In Paris?  Never!!  While the rain is causing havoc for the players and tournament organizers, the clouds opening up and spewing water everywhere has allowed #TwineTime to publish the annual preview and predictions blog post in...almost....a respectable and timely manner.

When you think of the French Open, what pops into your head right away?  For most casual tennis fans it is probably the name Rafa Nadal.  Nadal has dominated the clay courts of Roland Garros, winning 9 of the past 11 men's singles titles.  The two he did not win went to the Men of Switzerland: Roger "The GOAT" Federer (2009) and Stan "The Man" Wawrinka (2015).  But for most hardcore tennis fans, Roland Garros also equates to chaos.  No other slam in tennis produces more carnage within the men's and women's draws than the French Open.  And just look at the history of champions.  Some of the greatest players in my generation never hoisted the title...namely John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams.  And now Novak Djokovic?  The "Djoker" has lost 3 of the past 4 finals and is still a French Open title away from the career grand slam.  Will he finally be able to accomplish the feat, similar to main rivals Federer and Nadal?  Or will he fall victim to the same unfinished story book ending that plagued Sampras and Hingis?  Time will tell...

Gaston Gaudio, 2004 French Open Champion
In speaking about champions, Roland Garros not only has been the hardest title for the best in the game to win but has also produced the most unlikely champions in the sport.  How many of you remember these big names on the men's tour:  Andres Gomez (1990), Albert Costa (2002) and Gaston Gaudio (2004)?  Even some of the finalists are almost names many tennis fans might not recognize: Alberto Berasategui (1994), Martin Verkerk (2003) and Mariano Puerta (2005)?  Now, to be fair, since 2005 one of (or both) of the Big 3 (Nadal, Federer, Djokovic) have played in the final, creating a somewhat less unpredictable draw on the men's side.

Anastasia Myskina,
2004 French Open Champion
The women's list of champions is even more of a head scratcher.  Of course you are all very familiar with the careers of French Open Champions Iva Majoli (1997), Anastasia Myskina (2004) and Francesca Schiavone (2010) right?  Recently, many now top women's players can lay claim to their first major final being in Paris, such as Sara Errani (2012), Simona Halep (2014) and Lucie Safarova (2015).  Of course, none of those 3 have found grand slam success in winning the title...yet.  Point being, we can almost guarantee to expect the unexpected over the next two weeks with some major upsets along the path to crowing the 2016 French Open Champions.

Quick side note on success though.  Can you guess the most successful male doubles player at Roland Garros since 1967?  Canadian Daniel Nestor!!!  Nestor has picked up 4 men's doubles championships with 3 different partners.  Nestor is back in the draw this year looking for title #5.

Other quick side piece, we will truly miss watching Roger Federer hit the courts over the next two weeks.  RFed pulled out of Roland Garros due to an on-going back injury in hopes of being 100% for his favourite surface, grass, and preparation for Wimbledon.  This marks the first grand slam without Federer since the 1999 US Open...a remarkable feat of 65 straight slam appearances.  Hats of to RFed...still the GOAT in my opinion.

But let's get off the practice courts now and head out to Court Suzanne Lenglen for a full preview:

The Favourites

Men

Novak Djokovic (1) - No surprise Novak enters the French Open as the overwhelming favourite.  He has been dominant all season on tour and looks primed to finally lay claim to the one slam he has yet to win.  Leading into the tournament, Djokovic won in Madrid and lost in the final in Rome.  Both finals playing against Andy Murray (who himself is becoming a HUGE threat on clay oddly enough).   Had Novak won in Rome, I think many would be almost ready to hand him the trophy now.  But the slip up against Murray did show he is perhaps vulnerable once again on his least favourite surface...which is an advantage for the rest of the field.  The question is can Murray, defending champ Wawrinka or RG legend Nadal pull off the "upset" win?  Or will The Djoker finally complete the career grand slam?  You have to wonder if maybe he is putting too much pressure on himself...similar to Roger a few years back.  Time will tell...but he isn't getting any younger and this may be his best shot.  Interesting additional pressure, should Djokovic win he will lay claim to the #SerenaSlam...holding all 4 major titles at the same time but not in the same calendar year.


Women

Serena Williams (1) - Of course Serena is the favourite here.  She is the defending champion after all and a total beast on the women's tour.  She lives for the grand slams and often brings out her best...even when her best looks average she is still winning.  Serena is always a tough out at the slams and, as long as she continues to hold that #1 ranking and continues playing at this high level of tennis, she will enter every slam she plays as the favourite.  She is the GOAT after all.  But let's not get carried away here.  She is in a bit of a #SerenaSlump.  Since the pressure of attempting to win the calendar grand slam was halted in the stunning SF loss at the 2015 US Open, Serena has yet to capture a slam.  Ok, now that is only 2 slams (US Open, Australian Open) but come on...she was the overwhelming favourite at both.  The clay courts of Roland Garros are also Serena's least favourite playing surface.  Sure she has collected 3 titles here but she is also more prone to early round defeats, especially recently with a stunning R1 loss in 2012 and R2 loss in 2014.  Based on history alone, does this mean 2016 we should expect another early round exit?  Serena has not played a ton of tennis this season and has only 1 tournament win to her credit, a few weeks ago in Rome.  Luckily for her, the clay of RG can balance out the field a bit for her.  If she can avoid the upsets but watch them all fall around her, another title is well within her grasp.  Her draw certainly isn't helping though with potential trap matches coming against Kiki Mladenovic, past champ Ana Ivanovic and main rival Vika Azarenka possibly looming in the QF.


Watch Out For

Men

Dominic Thiem (#13) - The 22-year old Austrian is looking to follow in the footsteps of another Austrian clay court champion Thomas Muster and lay claim to a French Open title.  And why not?  Currently ranked 15th in the world, Thiem has looked very strong the past weeks reaching the final in Munich and QF in Rome.  In his last tune-up event in Nice last week, he took home the championship.  Add in his clay wins from February in Argentina and Mexico and the resume is starting to look stacked towards a French Open run.  This blog has been raving about Thiem for a few years now as being the next big up and comer, it's #ThiemTime to follow-up with the big results at the slams...and this could be his major coming out party.  Thiem has been listed as a Dark Horse pick in past blogs...he has moved up to Watch Out For now for obvious reasons.  He finds himself in the top half of the draw with Djoker and in the section with Nadal.  No easy feat for a long slam run.  His best slam result was reaching the 4th round at the 2014 US Open and his best results in Paris have been the 2nd round the past two years.  His draw is very favourable for a career best 3rd round showing here, potentially battling the hard serving big man Kevin Anderson.  But this is also a winnable match, possibly setting up a R4 encounter with the #KingOfClay Rafa Nadal.


Women

Romania - Yes, that is right...I am listing the entire fleet of Romanian women as the one's to watch out for.  You only need to look back to Madrid at the start of May to see why when 4 of the final 8 players were Romanian women.  The crew is led by #6 Simona Halep.  The 24-year old has been to the championship final before and has peaked at the #2 ranking in the world.  She loves the clay and could be the perfect contender to roll through the entire field and claim her first grand slam title, similar to Majoli and Myskina.  Plus, she may fly a bit under the radar over the next two weeks with big names Serena, Azarenka, Radwanska and Muguruza getting most of the attention.  Plus she lucked out on the draw, finding herself on the bottom half avoiding Serena and Vika and having a more vulnerable Radwanska and Muguruza possibly awaiting her.  But don't stop with Halep.  Add in #25 Irina-Camelia Begu, #31 Monica Niculescu and dangerous qualifier Sorana Cirstea and all of a sudden you have the 4 Horsewomen of Romania ready to take down the field.  All 4 of these ladies are capable of deep runs, with Halep having the strong case at potentially taking home the title for Romania.


The Dark Horse

Men

Pablo Cuevas (#25) - The 30-year old from Uruguay may just be the big surprise of the tournament on the men's side.  Currently ranked 27 in the world, Cuevas is having a career resurgence year on tour.  Back in February he won back-to-back clay court titles in Rio and Sao Paulo, including a SF victory over the King of Clay in Rio.  His results have not been as strong leading into this event but he does love playing on clay and his draw is fairly positive for him.  His best slam result is making the 3rd round here a year ago,   He does find himself in the top half with Djoker but in his section of the draw he has a vulnerable Berdych and Ferrer to possibly deal with to make the QF date with Novak.  This could be his best grand slam result to date with a deep run into week 2.


Women

Dominika Cibulkova (#22) - Look who is back and a serious threat once again at the majors.  The 27-year old Slovakian once cracked the Top 10 in 2014 after a run to the Australian Open final (as a 20-seed).  While her ranking has slipped a bit over the past few years due to injury, Cibulkova appears to have found her tennis groove once again and is ascending up the rankings, now up to #26.  She does have a title to her credit in 2016, winning in Poland in April.  She also recently saw great success in clay by making the final in Madrid leading up to the French Open.  Cibulkova is also a former SF here, albeit way back in 2009.  She has the game to make a deep run....as long as her head allows her to do so.  The draw did her no favours mind you, putting her in the top half with Serena as a possible QF opponent.  Of course, that assumes she even survives a very tough section with Carla Suarez Navarro and Vika Azarenka.  It won't be easy...but she could make a deep run here nonetheless.  It is the French Open after all...anything is possible on the red clay.


So now you have a few names to watch as you enjoy the masterpiece theatre action known as Roland Garros.  Let's jump into the fun with some #TourLifePredictions:

The 115th French Open
Paris, France

2015 Champions:  Stan Wawrinka (men) and Serena Williams (women)

Men

4th Round

(1) Novak Djokovic def. (14) Roberto Bautista Agut
(11) David Ferrer def. (25) Pablo Cuevas
(4) Rafa Nadal def. (13) Dominic Thiem
(12) David Goffin def. (26) Joao Sousa
(8) Milos Raonic def. (23) Jack Sock
(3) Stan Wawrinka def. (16) Gilles Simon
(5) Kei Nishikori def. (17) Nick Kyrgios
(2) Andy Murray def. (19) Benoit Paire

Quarterfinals

(1) Djokovic def. (11) Ferrer
(4) Nadal def. (12) Goffin
(3) Wawrinka def. (8) Raonic
(2) Murray def. (5) Nishikori

Semifinals

(1) Djokovic def. (4) Nadal
(2) Murray def. (3) Wawrinka

COUPE DES MOUSQUETAIRES (MEN'S SINGLES) CHAMPIONSHIP:  (1) Novak Djokovic def. (2) Andy Murray in 4 sets - This is the final we all want to see and this is the final we all should get.  They have played one another so much this season it seems and are the runaway Top 2 in the world right now.  Djoker got the best of Murray in Australia and recently in Madrid.  Murray returned the favour with a dominating win in Rome before coming to Paris.  Murray has the confidence and swagger right now knowing he can beat Djokovic.  Who would have thought Murray would be a major contender for a clay court major though?  Crazy how far he has evolved his game over the past few seasons.  But Novak is Novak...and he is still the best in the world right now.  The career grand slam is deserving.  And perhaps it is time to rename the #SerenaSlam to the #DjokerSlam.  Novak does have a strong case for also winning the calendar grand slam this season....he just needs to finally find the winner's trophy in Paris!  

Coupe Jacques Brugnon (Men's Doubles):  (2) Jean-Julien Rojer / Horia Tecau def. (1) Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut - Rojer and Tecau are coming off a strong win in Madrid and have been one of the most consistent teams on tour this season.  They won Wimbledon and the Year-End Championships last year and have made at least the QF of their past 5 grand slams, including a SF run here last year.  Herbet and Mahut had a breakout season last year, winning the US Open and reaching the final in Australia.  While they struggled in an early loss this season in Australia, they found their groove entering Roland Garros, winning three straight Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte-Carlo.  These are the best men's doubles teams in the world right now and, similar to the men's singles championship, this is the men's doubles final we all want to see.

Women

4th Round

(26) Kristina Mladenovic def. (Q) Sorana Cirstea
(5) Vika Azarenka def. (22) Dominika Cibulkova
(3) Angelique Kerber def. (15) Madison Keys
(8) Timea Bacsinszky def. (Q) Louisa Chirico
(25) Irina-Camelia Begu def. Elena Vesnina
(4) Garbine Muguruza def. (13) Svetlana Kuznetsova
(6) Simona Halep def. (11) Lucie Safarova
(2) Aggie Radwanska def. (19) Sloane Stephens

Quarterfinals

(5) Azarenka def. (26) Mladenovic
(3) Kerber def. (8) Bacsinszky
(4) Muguruza def. (25) Begu
(6) Halep def. (2) Radwanska

Semifinals

(5) Azarenka def. (3) Kerber
(6) Halep def. (4) Muguruza

COUPE SUZANNE LENGLEN (WOMEN'S SINGLES) CHAMPIONSHIP: (6) Simona Halep def. (5) Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets - The past 3 grand slams have produced first-time champions...why not continue the streak?  Halep loves the clay, possesses the game and now has the experience of playing a grand slam final here in Paris.  This is her year!  With Serena looking very vulnerable...well the entire WTA looking open to be honest...Halep is the prime under the radar pick to continue the trend at Roland Garros of crowning an "upset" champion.  Azarenka will have a strong run though and will be looking to add to her grand slam trophy collection...and will probably feel lucky to make the final avoiding rival Williams (a predicted R3 upset victim to Mladenovic).  I like the path of the WTA though right now, where you never really know who is going to win.  Who thought Flavia Pennetta and Angelique Kerber would be the past two grand slam champions?  Let's add Halep to the list shall we?


Coupe Simone Mathieu (Women's Doubles):  (1) Martina Hingis / Sania Mirza def. (5) Caroline Garcia / Kristina Mladenovic - Wow, Hingis is still a force on the women's tour.  Sure her single days are behind her but she has resurrected her career in doubles and is the #1 ranked doubles player.  Her and Mirza have been almost unstoppable on tour over the past year and a half.  If they can win in Paris, they will lay claim to the #SerenaSlam of women's doubles...holding all 4 majors at the same time but again not in the same calendar year.  Even more amazing, if it does happen, this will be the second time Hingis has accomplished the feat in women's doubles...with the first coming way back in 1998-99.

So there you have it friends...the #TwineTime preview and predictions for #RG16.  Share your thoughts in the comment section below or find me on twitter.  Feel free to also share your predictions and who you think will be the last man and last woman standing next weekend.

Enjoy the clay court drama....


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

#DunnyIsMoney

#BetweenTheSheets with Matt Dunstone
2x Cdn. Jr. Champ talks #FreeAgentFrenzy, Self-Reflection and....Skittles?


Are you excited #curling fans?  No, not because the warm weather seems to be here and summer is literally right around the corner.  I meant excited for welcoming another member to the #TwineTime family: Matt Dunstone!!  Personally, this one is very exciting.  To be honest, Mr. Dunstone and I have been talking since last summer about doing an interview together.  But timing throughout the season never played to our advantage.  Matt played a full schedule and my work schedule sometimes caused delays.  At the same time, I have always stated I respect the schedule of any athlete, in all sports, and would never request or expect an interview if the schedule didn't allow on their side.  I want the #TwineTime interviews to be fun, relaxed and exciting....hard to do if an athlete is in the middle of an event.

Needless to say, the timing was perfect for Matt and I to finally connect.  I think you will really enjoy this one rock heads.  Matt was very honest and open in our conversation...and we had A LOT to talk about.  Without further adieu, I bring you Mr. #DunnyIsMoney himself, Matt Dunstone:

TwineTime (TT):  It's a pleasure to have you join the #TwineTime blog family, I really appreciate it.  Welcome and thank you!

Matt Dunstone (MD):  I have been waiting to do this for awhile now, it is long overdue.  I am looking forward to it.

TT:  I agree.  Hopefully we can make it fun and exciting.  Let's start off with talking about last season, your last season in juniors.  A successful year with winning Canadians and going to Worlds.  How do you feel about last season and how do you feel about leaving the junior ranks behind?

MD:  Juniors has been nothing but good to me and I have learned so much from it.  I have been given so many great opportunities that a lot of junior's haven't had the opportunity to have.  I am very thankful for the people I got to play with.  I got to play with some, if not the, most successful junior players in Canada for sure.  I played with Canadian Junior Champs left, right and centre and have obviously been very lucky to play with them.  Even up to some of the guys in the men's ranks who gave me the opportunity this year to play in the grand slam.  I cannot thank enough the people around me who made me better and the great competition I have had.  I got to play Braden Calvert, World Junior Champ, 20-plus times in the last three years.  We did nothing but make each other better and that's why, between us, we have four Canadian Junior Championships.  And I know him and my boys will be looking for number 5 next year.  We have done nothing but make each other better and it has been quite the experience.

TT:  Does that maybe add to your legacy, leaving the junior ranks with that Manitoba dominance we have seen over the past few years?  Is that something you were hoping to make happen and something you hope to see continue?

MD:  Yeah, absolutely.  Any time your province can go and dominate like we have the past four years and if it can continue on as long as it possibly can you would like it to.  Even though me and Braden are done, with Braden done next year, there are some pretty good faces coming up.  For those other younger teams that are up and coming, to be able to play guys like me and Braden on a regular basis, will do nothing but make them better too.  We are pretty lucky in Manitoba to have all the competition we do, making us better.  There are a couple of young guys like JT Ryan and Hayden Forrester.  He has beaten Braden a few times, played Carruthers tight too losing to Reid on a last rock in the Viterra (Manitoba Provincial Men's Championship).  That is just another team up and coming that teams are going to have to look out for at the upcoming Canadian Juniors.  Even though it started with me and Braden, I don't think it is going to end that way.

TT:  Now let's talk about Worlds.  It obviously didn't pan out the way you would have liked in winning the gold medal but still always a great experience.  What was it like to go and represent the maple leaf once again?

MD:  Yeah to go wear the maple leaf in itself is a major accomplishment.  You don't really learn to appreciate it until after the fact when you get to reminisce about the times you had at the world juniors, especially when things didn't really go our way on the ice.  I mean to finish with the win and get a bronze obviously is pretty huge.  From day 1 in September our goal was to be world junior champs so it is disappointing on that front, especially after the season we put together and the run we went on between Canadian Juniors and Viterra.  We came up extremely flat at World Juniors is the only way to put it.  It is extremely disappointing.  I think we have come around though and are extremely proud of the bronze we brought home.

TT:  For sure.  Now in speaking about World Juniors, you have a healthy friendship, maybe a tad bit competitive in a friendly way, with USA's Korey Dropkin.  You guys have some great pictures out there, obviously the North American Cup is one of the best things we have seen in curling.  This is great for the sport, especially in juniors.  What is that relationship like and how positive it is to have an American team pushing you guys?

MD: *laughing* Oh it's awesome.  Me and Korey have known each other since 2013 in Sochi (World Juniors) and have stayed in contact.  He is a helluva guy and I love him to death.  We chat throughout the season.  Even in the off season, we have been chatting.  I turn 21 in June and he turns 21 in June so we may end up going to Vegas if it works out with work schedules.  We talk to each other throughout the season.  It is a great friendship I have with him and a great rivalry.  I know you love it *laughing*

TT: *laughing* I do love it.  I think it is great!

MD: It is going to be happening for years to come.  I think we are both the up and coming prospective guys in our countries.  It's great to have a guy like that you can talk to and chat with from another country and have a really great friendship with.

TT:  Oh for sure.  So now, who put the cup together and who's idea was that?

MD:  Well Korey came up with the idea of the North American Cup.  I am not too sure where she came from but it works for me because I am winning it right now *laughing*  Mark Fenner, second on Team Dropkin, and his dad actually made that thing.  It is a mix of Canadian beers and American beers, which is awesome.  Obviously the Canadian beer is a little bit better so it is only right that we are winning the cup as well.  It is extremely cool and I wasn't even expecting it.  We were playing a bonspiel in Bemidji, MN in November and that's when they brought it out.  It was extremely cool and something I never expected.

TT:  It is very cool.  Now is it something that is hopefully going to continue on as you guys continue your career into men's?

MD:  Yeah, absolutely.  I have talked to Korey and he has kind of told me what they have planned for next season.  He has big plans, as do I.  We will definitely be playing one another a couple of times next season.

TT:  Excellent.  Well I have gone on the record in saying that I think the 2022 Winter Olympics will see both of you there representing both countries.  Let's hope that is what ends up happening.

MD:  I would hope so.  I think I need a couple guys here in Canada to quit first.  *laughing*  I think Brad, after this next Olympic cycle, needs to hang 'em up and give me a chance.

TT:  *laughing*  Time to let the young guns show how to do it, right?

MD:  Exactly!  But I don't have patience, I don't want to wait.  I need all the guys ahead of me to hang 'em up right now.  *laughing*

TT:  Well now speaking about moving forward, you kind of went into a little #FreeAgentFrenzy this off-season.  Looking for a new team, going into men's.  What is it like being out there?  You are probably one of the highest sought after free agents, perhaps after Pat Simmons.  Everyone was kind of looking and wondering what Matt Dunstone was going to do next.  What is that like?

MD:  It's the first time I have ever been in that situation.  Things behind the scenes didn't kind of work out how I had been lead to believe.  But it happens.  I was kind of in for a rude awakening into the men's scene there.  Guys gotta do what they gotta do to win games though.  So I respect that.  It's ok.  Like I said, I wasn't expecting to be a total free agent with no team.  I had the impression I was leaving a squad to join another squad and that obviously didn't work.  Hopefully it is not a position I'll be in for a little while here.  But to have my name out there and talk to some of the best guys in the game and for me to chat with some of the guys I did is kind of surreal, especially just coming out of juniors.

TT:  Did you get any good words of advice from people you did talk to?  Like you said, you did get to speak to a lot of people in the sport and in men's for awhile I would assume.  Did you get good words of advice on how to handle the situation?  Like you said, it is tough and you are just coming out of juniors.  This was a tough move to go through.

MD:  Yeah, I talked to a few other guys on what my plans are and how I should go about things.  People are well aware that me and Reid Carruthers are quite connected on that level.  Any time an offer would come up or before I would make a plan, I would talk to Reid because I respect his opinion and he has gone through the ropes of the men's.  I think of no better guy to take advice from.  Basically through that whole process I was talking to him almost every day...I probably annoyed him a little bit.  He gave me great advice and his opinions actually had a great deal of effect on me.  It's great to have somebody who has been through it all, been through the free agents, been in my position as a guy right out of juniors...to have a guy who has been through everything I have just gone through is nice to have somebody there for you.

TT:  For sure.  Is that something we maybe need to see a bit more of?  More of the mentor - mentee relationship between men's and juniors?

MD:  Yeah.  Sometimes it is tough.  It depends.  I played more of a men's schedule the past two seasons.  I have been able to, not really hang out with the guys but to see how they go about their business.  I have been lucky enough to talk to some of them and pick their brains a little bit.  Probably one of my favourite experiences was getting called by Jeff Stoughton asking to go to Korea with him.  That was the first time I have ever really talked to a big name guy like that and hang out.  I mean it is tough.  Mine and Reid's relationship goes all the way back to when I was 11 years old.  A lot of juniors don't get that opportunity.  But to any junior curlers out there, if you ever have that opportunity you gotta take it.  Just to learn from anybody who has been there, done that.  You have to pick their brain and you will only be better for it.  And then one day you will get to kick their ass like I did to Reid in the Viterra *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  That's true enough.  And sometimes it is time for the mentee to beat the mentor.

MD:  Absolutely!  He had to take a step back that day.  But he got me the next time after that.  And I am sure he is going to snag me a couple more times this upcoming season.

TT:  Well that's what makes it fun as well, to see how it goes.  Now let's talk about the new team this year, announced fairly recent.  How did that come about?  What are the goals and what are the plans with the new guys?

MD:  After my other plans had fallen through, I thought about how I wanted to stay home now and I wanted to keep skipping.  After reaching the Manitoba final this last season as a skip, I want to build a squad that is able to do the same kind of run because I knew my old guys already had Gunner (Jason Gunnlaugson) coming in as skip.  I had to find something new here and I found some guys who got experience playing at the top level.  Got some guys who have played many events on the world curling tour and have had success on the world curling tour.  It is a great group of guys who are around my age as well.  I am very excited about this new team.  Our goal is pre-trials (for 2018 Olympics).  We are playing a pretty heavy schedule and crack top 15 CTRS and top 25 order of merit and hopefully get into that Tier II (Tour Challenge) slam this year.  That would be huge for us.  I mean you see Team Einarson this year win that event and they just sky rocketed.  They got a Canada Cup spot now.  They are one of the top teams out there now.  That Tier II event is one of the greatest ideas they have had.  It gives these tier II teams a chance to play at that level.  It is tough for teams to crack into that level and it is pretty easy for teams to stay in the grand slam level when you have cracking into it already.  The Tier II gives the one team that gets hot the chance to crack into it and stay there, like Team Einarson.  I mean that is our goal.  Hopefully we can put in a good run at Viterra, obviously some tough competition between my old boys and Willy (Lyburn) and RamaTime (Carruthers) and Mikey (McEwen).  If we can put a run together, it would be nice to be actually playing for something in the final this time around.  Between trying to get to the Brier and making the pre-trials, we are going to do whatever we can to at least accomplish one of those goals.

TT:  Do you find that is difficult, when sitting down with the new team and talking about goals, the way the system is set up it is difficult to start a brand new team in the middle of the four-year Olympic cycle, to put those goals in place when other teams seem so far ahead on the qualification side of things?
MD:  Not necessarily.  I mean when building a new team, you need to get good quick especially this late in the Olympic cycle.  The first two and a half years are years to mesh because most of them are new teams.  They have those two and a half practice years where they can learn as a team and grow as a team.  We are a new team with only two years to go before the trials.  We cannot put too much pressure on ourselves though.  We are going to have some hiccups obviously in being a new squad, not everything is going to be perfect right away.  But we need to try our best to make it work asap so we can have that early season success that will give us those opportunities down the road to maybe crack into the slams and reach those big point events to reach those pre-trials.

TT:  Excellent!  Best of luck to the new team and I am sure everyone will be watching and hoping you guys find success.  Like you said, I think we need to see more up and coming teams push those top teams and make it more exciting for the season.

MD:  Absolutely.  And hopefully it is one of us who breaks out this year.  I know we have some high hopes in what we want to do and we are already starting the process.  We are all pretty excited.  I think this change was good for everybody.  We are ready to go and bring it on from anybody!  I am ready for my first year of men's.

TT:  Excellent and great to hear.  I know fans are excited to see what you can do.  Now you talked about the positive experience of the Tier II and one I agree with you on, I think it is a positive aspect to #growthesport.  Obviously one of the big points with the #TwineTime blog has been the topic of #growthesport all season.  Now, a common question I have asked a lot of people, if we were giving you the power to make a change or adjustment to the sport to elevate it to the next level, what would you do to help #growthesport and make it successful?

MD:  Help #growthesport?  Well I know it would be tough to do but to even make a Tier II tour sort of thing.  Have multiple tier II events.  Already if you win the Tier II you qualify for the next slam.  But have more tier II events.  I know it would be tough to do because you already have a slam event running but across Canada somehow.  Just to have those teams play and be competitive amongst each other.  The only way you are going to get better is to play the best competition out there.  A lot of tier II teams do not have the funds and sponsorship and publicity to play the high level teams all the time.  It is a tough situation.  The sport is dying a little bit sadly enough.  What the grand slams are doing is unbelievable, with the amount of coverage they are providing.  Even the story at the Continental Cup about the lady from Mexico who saw curling on TV and saved up all the money to go to Vegas...things like that are super cool and that is from all the TV coverage from TSN and Sportsnet.  TV has been huge for the game and is growing it in that sense.  It is cool to see the numbers beating some football and hockey games.  I don't think it is far away but I think curling is going to be up there as a professional sport...I think you could already call it that for teams up in the grand slam...but I think it is going to get up there pretty soon overall.

TT:  For sure.  Now do you think there is lessons we can take from other sports?  There is always the tennis angle that people have talked about, I've talked about it as well.  They have tier II, tier III level events to increase your ranking, more points for the different events.  They have a challenger tour which is similar to what you are talking about.  Do you think there is opportunities to not exactly re-invent the wheel for the sport but take advantage of some of the other sports who have gone through these learning processes and really help elevate our sport?

MD:  Oh absolutely.  Learning from sports who have been in the same position as curling, there would be no better way to do it.  For tennis, as an example, seeing how they broke out into one of the most popular sports.  It is really cool to see the evolution even about what has gone in in the last couple of year's even.

TT:  I agree.  One question I have to ask you, and you can take it wherever you want if you want to comment on it, is the #BroomGate situation.  The online survey closed and hopefully they take some of that feedback into moving forward.  What are your thoughts on this going into the off-season and, being a new team, is that something you don't really focus on right now or do you still talk about how that affects your game?

MD:  It does affect our game, for sure.  Even with sponsorship.  We are trying to get a curling sponsor and nobody really knows what kind of broom heads they are coming out with.  It has been a tricky season.  I know last year we changed how we swept five times during the season, whether it be broom heads or technique.  I do think it is a neat evolution of the sport.  I must say I do enjoy this is how the game is played now.  Obviously making shots is fun.  In a way it does reward teams who maybe don't throw the rock as pure and does help you get away with some things, which is upsetting and does take away from the sport a little bit.  I have full faith the World Curling Federation and Curling Canada will come up with something that will make it fair, whether it be everyone using the same fabric or put a rule on technique.  I really do think it is technique that has a lot to do with it and I don't think they have been looking at that enough as they probably should.  What the grand slam tour has done in trying new things, I think that is great.  I think that is the only way you can do it.  You have to take feedback from the players and have them review how the week went with the new rule on sweeping.  I hope they can figure something out, make a gentleman's agreement on something we can stick to and let's have everyone agree on something and not have some guys try to cheat here and take away from the integrity of the game.  This year was a little hectic and tough to learn.  The day before we left for World Juniors we found out we couldn't have hair heads, 24 hours before we were getting on the plane.  Heading to worlds we had to completely change how we were sweeping for the past three or four months.  I think they need to make up the rules and stick with them.  Do a test year out of it and get some feedback at the end.  This thing is not going to go away.  This is just the beginning.  I can see this going on for another 10 or 15 years.  Guys are only going to discover more what we can do with these brooms.  But like I said I know the World Curling Federation and Curling Canada is going to come up with something good and some strict rules on what are able to do with that rock.

TT:  Yup, and hopefully as we have said this started as a negative for the season but hopefully turns into a positive in the long run for the sport to help grow it right?

MD:  Oh for sure.  Every sport evolves.  This is just the first step in curling evolving.  It was a little bit out of hand and evolved quickly.  We need to put control on it but we need it to happen to help the sport evolve.  It might even help with the popularity of it as well.

TT:  Completely I agree with you.  Ok so now let's talk a bit more about you specifically.  You are still a young guy but have had a pretty healthy curling career, one that probably more than most curlers would love to have.  When you look back at everything you have accomplished so far, what is the one highlight that stands out the most in your career so far?

MD:  The Canadian Juniors probably, the first one (2013).  I was a 17 year old kid.  We were 2-2 after game 4.  There was really no expectations.  I mean we were the third seed going into Manitoba provincials.  Everyone thought it was a two-team race at Manitoba provincials and we kind of came out of nowhere, got hot, came out of the Manitoba provincials.  There were no real expectations.  It was kind of just cool to be there as there were no real expectations out of us yet.  But to go there and get on a run and play a very good Alberta (Thomas Scoffin) team in the final and find a way to win it.  I kind of laugh at myself because I go back and look at that game and, compared to how I play now, I even say, "Why the hell would I even call that?"  It is crazy to see how much you learn in a matter of years.  That is definitely the highlight.  It was something we never really expected to do.  And then to go and play in an Olympic venue (Sochi) at the World Juniors at 17 years old...I mean that bronze medal is very cool.  You tell me at the beginning of the season I would get to play at an Olympic venue at the World Juniors and I would be laughing at you.  That whole season was probably the highlight of my junior career no doubt.

TT:  That is very cool!  Are you ever going to live down the reaction and the picture of you hoping down the ice?  Do you live that down or even want to live that down?  Do you like that moment?

MD:  *laughing*  I love that moment.  I have to live through it through pictures again because I have no recollection of it happening.  It is funny how you don't really remember moments like that.  But you can't teach those hops there, that's just natural instinct.  Obviously a very cool celebration.  I never planned on doing something like that.  People know I am kind of an emotional player and that is me wearing my heart on my sleeve and that is a dream coming true.  I love looking at those pictures because that is the first time one of my dreams really came true in the sport.

TT:  Well I know in watching this year's Canadian Junior final, there was all the talk on twitter about, if you did win, what kind of celebration we would see.  It was a lot more tame in comparison this year.  Does that mean you are maturing?  *laughing*

MD:  *laughing*  I mean it is a more controlled intensity, a more positive intensity.  When I was younger there was time I would throw a couple temper tantrums and give a couple broom slams.  I mean I still do that but I pick my spots and I am more controlled.  The intensity is still there, no doubt, and the emotions are still there.  But it is always for the positive.  It is a part I love about the games.  In seeing Brad Jacobs, I know some people don't like it but I think it is great.  These guys put so much into the game and wear their hearts on their sleeves.  We are all playing for something here.  It's not like curling back in the day where guys weren't playing for a whole lot of money.  Guys are taking time off, not working, and following their dreams and making money on tour.  You put your heart on the sleeve and make sacrifices for that stuff.  I think it is great to see, especially after doing something great.  I obviously love that stuff...as long as it is positive.

TT:  I agree with you.  I think it is something the sport needs more of, that personality on the ice.  Your win was a perfect example.  You mention Jacobs, obviously a great example.  Like it or hate it, I don't think it really matters.  I think it is something we could see more of.  Do you think that is something we will see more of with curlers?  We are slowly starting to see a little more personality on the ice from guys.  Can we get there where we see more of it, like we see in other sports?

MD:  I wouldn't be surprised about it, especially as the money purse keeps rising and the sponsorship keeps rising.  Every year guys are playing for more and more.  We are spending more and more time away from our families.  It is never going to change in me, I am too competitive.  Whether I was playing for nothing you would still see that from me.  It is that competitive side of me.  As long as I can keep those emotions more positive rather than negative out there.

TT:  For sure.  In speaking about the emotions being more positive over the negative, what about the one career mulligan you would like to redo?  A shot or a game where you are not happy with the result and would like to do over again if you could.

MD:  Ummm....probably in the 2015 Manitoba junior final.  We had a pretty good lead on Calvert with the hammer up 2 playing the 9th end.  I have a shot I make probably 8 out of 10 times.  That was just another huge maturing thing for me.  That is kind of when I figured out I needed to work here.  I kind of took for granted the success I had recently.  I still had stuff to learn.  I let that moment get the best of me.  I started thinking about the outcome more, especially two up in a big game.  Up 2 with (hammer) playing the 9th end, that's a game I win probably 98 out of 100 times.  That is just part of the maturing process.  It was a third of a rock double and I wasn't even close, gave up a steal of 2 and then disaster in the 10th.  That game right there has helped me come so far.  I know it is cliche but you learn so much more from your losses and that just proved it to me right there.  I think that is why we had the success we had this year, just because of the heartbreak and robbery we felt of the year before.  We worked really hard and it showed in the dominating season we had.  We had only 1 loss to a Canadian junior team all season and that was against (Tanner) Horgan (Team Northern Ontario) at the Canadian Juniors.  I think we went 49-1 against Canadian junior teams this year.  We really geared up from that loss and learning so much from it.  

TT:  Oh for sure.  You have spoke a few times on the maturity level.  Like I mentioned, you are still a really young guy.  Is it interesting to look back?  Where does this self-reflection come from?  We don't see this very often with people.  Even, to be honest with you, in thinking about myself at your age to have so much self-reflection and understand what that means.  I know you are close with your family, is that something you get from your family?  Your friends?  Your colleagues?  Your fellow curlers?  Where do you get that from because self-reflection is very difficult for some people to grasp and you seem to have a good handle on that?

MD:  I'm not sure.  With the curling thing, I feel there is always something you can learn, especially from past experiences.  Especially negative past experiences.  You kind of look back and I want to figure things out, whether it be in curling or in life.  I just want to figure things out, what went wrong, how can I avoid it next time.  I mean, I like to self-reflect but I also like to put the past in the past and just move forward with it.  You can't change what's happened but you can learn from it.  That is why I self-reflect.  Try to make a better future.

TT:  For sure and that is something hopefully everyone, regardless of how old you are, can take back and everyone can work on that.  Great job on you though for that level of maturity and something we do not see very often, nor something we see often in sports.

MD:  Thank you!

TT:  Ok let's do a little bit of rapid fire for you and continue helping people get to know more about Matt Dunstone and what makes you tick.  What would be your walk-up song?

MD:  My walk up song for curling?  Oh boy...ummm...."Jumpman" by Drake.

TT:  Ah going with a little Canadian boy too, which is great.

MD:  Big Raptors win too so I am sure Drake was pumped about that.  *laughing*

TT:  Very true, huge Raptors win.  I am sure he will be pumped for Game 1 going into Cleveland too.

MD:  Yeah well it will be a 5 game series too so he better enjoy it.

TT:  *laughing* Whoa...I am going to put that in this interview too you know.

MD:  Absolutely.  Cavs in 5!  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing* Ok deal.  I will send everyone to Matt Dunstone twitter account if they are not happy with that prediction.

MD:  *laughing*  You betcha...

TT:  Who is your biggest curling rival?

MD:  Hmm biggest curling rival?  Oh boy.  I don't know.  Obviously I played Braden many times, a couple big games many times.  If it was going to be anyone I would say it is going to be him just because we have played each other so many times over the years.  I am not sure.  I have played Mikey four times this year and split with them.  That's a rivalry I would like to see bloom.  All four of those guys are great and our games are fairly competitive.  That's a rivalry I want to see bloom here, especially after he got me in the (Manitoba) final this year.  I kind of want to get back at him for that one.  But probably Braden just because I have played him so many times.  No real rivalries quite yet though.

TT:  Ok right.  Well my next question to you was going to be if you can pick someone to start a rivalry with, who would it be?  Would it be McEwen?

MD:  *laughing*  Mikey.  You got it.  Nothing personal, I just love playing against those guys.  They are just a bunch of hard throwing tuckers.  We play the same kind of game.  Three of the four games have come down to last shot.  Every game there is exciting shots to be made.  I just love playing them.  And there is no better feeling than beating them too.

TT:  Excellent!  Now we saw a lot of hashtags going around about you during the Canadian Juniors all over twitter.  If you could give yourself any hashtag, what would you hashtag be for your curling career?

MD:  #DunnyIsMoney

TT:  *laughing*  #DunnyIsMoney I kind of assumed that is what it would be.

MD:  *laughing*  #DunnyIsMoney  You know it man.  You bought a shirt yet?

TT:  *laughing*  There are shirts now?

MD:  DynastyCurling.com....#DunnyIsMoney....go and get it!

TT:  Look at you, even throwing out a little sponsor love right there too?

MD:  Oh of course, you got it!  Not one of them has sold yet so you could be the first.

TT:  *laughing*  Does it come with a personal autograph on it at least or something?

MD:  *laughing*  I can do whatever you like, just be the first to buy the shirt.  I want somebody to buy it.

TT:  *laughing*  That's awesome!  I will look into that one for ya.

MD:  It has been on the market for 6 months already and nobody has touched it yet.

TT:  Not one?  Are you serious?

MD:  Not one!

TT:  You have a girlfriend.  You have family.  None of them are buying into it?

MD:  Even the girlfriend refuses to buy a shirt!

TT:  *laughing*  Life is tough over in Manitoba!

MD:  *laughing*  Nobody thinks Dunny is money apparently!

TT:  *laughing*  Well you are just going to have go on the grand slam tour this year and win one, then at least you can literally be making money.

MD:  Hey, that is the plan.  I will take those winnings, go buy 100 #DunnyIsMoney shirts and give them to the first 100 people I see.

TT:  *laughing*  Throw them in the crowd after games now.

MD:  *laughing*  You got it.  Whatever it takes.

TT:  Win over the fans at the same time.

MD:  Yup, I'll try to.

TT:  Nicely done!  Ok so now if you had to form your perfect All-Star team, non-curlers, who would be on your team?  And you can put yourself on the team if you want...I know how much you love to skip.

MD:  Oh absolutely.  I'll skip the boys.  I'll take Giancarlo Stanton.  He is going to play second for me because he can bang 'em.  He hit 490ft. bombs so I'll have him throw some double peels for me.  I'll take Chris Sale as my lead.  I'm going with an all-MLB team here...

TT:  I kind of assumed you would given that is kind of your secondary sport.

MD:  Chris Sale as my lead, being the crafty left-hander.  He will be good at tossing up guards and making the freeze.  He will be my lead man.  Who the heck will I have play third?

TT:  It is a pivotal role.

MD:  It is a very pivotal role.  I need to be careful who I choose here.

TT:  Has to be someone who can stand in the house next to you all game and talk with you.

MD:  Jose Altuve.  The guy can do it all out there.  He is a winner.

TT:  What would you name your team?

MD:  Oh boy...Team That Won't Win Much *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  There won't be a lot of Dunny making money on that one.

MD:  *laughing*  Nope, the #DunnyIsMoney shirts will be extinct if that team ever got together.

TT:  *laughing*  But at least you would have fun.

MD:  *laughing*  Exactly.  And I would learn a little bit about ball.

TT:  There ya go.  Now I am going to steal an earlier #AskTheCurler question, if you were one of the 7 dwarfs, which one would you be?  And, with a brand new team, which dwarfs would they be as well?

MD:  I need to google the 7 drawfs quickly right here...

TT:  Nobody ever knows the 7 dwarfs...how do you guys not know these things?

MD:  I know Dopey...

TT:  Everybody knows Dopey...

MD:  Actually I am going to give Dopey to my second Ian McMillan.  Ok let me google them here.  Is there a muscles dwarf?

TT:  *laughing*  There is no muscles.  Doc is pretty big and strong.  Doc is probably the strongest.

MD:  Alright I will give that to the lead Connor Njegovan.  He is a beast in the gym.  Ok so I have Dopey....

TT:  And you have Doc so far.

MD:  I need to find one for myself and Alex here hey?

TT:  Yup.  You have Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Grumpy and Sneezy.

MD:  I'll take Bashful.  Alex looks like a guy who just likes to sleep.  I can see him putting some good hours into the late afternoon, especially after putting in a good night of drinking.  I can see him waking up for supper time.

TT:  *laughing*  So put him down as Sleepy?

MD:  Yup, put him down as Sleepy.

TT:  Nice.  It seems every team has at least one Sleepy.

MD:  *laughing*  I guess so yup.  Everyone has a sleeper.

TT:  What is your most embarrassing song on your ipod right now?

MD:  Oh boy....that I listen to?  There is a new one I just started listening to...it's kind of girly.  Ummmm...what is it here...I'll find something good for you here.

TT:  *laughing*  Ok, good!

MD:  I used to be big into Adele and "Hello"

TT:  Oh yeah, most people were.

MD:  Yeah that one got me really good.  It hit my heart nicely.

TT:  Yeah that one will hit your feels pretty hard.

MD:  Oh yeah, it got me.  Some pretty emotional days listening to that one.  That or "Love Yourself" by the Biebsmeister!

TT:  Oh that was going to be my next question.  A little Belieber in you?

MD:  You know what?  I am starting to come around with this Belieber shit.  He is coming out with some tunes that I cannot help but listen to.  Not a big fan of the 12 year old Biebs here.  But he got a haircut.  And if he could ever learn to hike his pants up a wee bit...he would be a guy I would be able to have a beer with.  *laughing*

TT:  *laughing*  Oh yeah, for sure.  Ok we are going to go with a little Belieber in you.

MD:  A little bit....just a wee bit.

TT:  Ok, just a wee bit.  We see during the season the boys will be out having a few drinks and karaoke seems to be a common thing that happens.  If you are up there singing a little song, what are you up there belting out?

MD:  "Sweet Caroline"

TT:  Are ya?

MD:  Oh "Sweet Caroline" absolutely!

TT:  How many times have you sang that in public?

MD:  Too many!  Too many!  "Sweet Caroline" is my go-to.  Trust me I sound like Beethoven when I go.  It's a wonderful thing.

TT:  *laughing*  And everyone is wishing they were Beethoven with a little deaf ear?

MD:  *laughing*  Yup, probably.  Singing that song, I could join Frank Sinatra.

TT:  *laughing*  Nice.  I love the confidence.

MD:  *laughing*  Oh yeah...

TT:  And my final #RapidFire question.  When I was talking with Chris Plys about his new sponsorship deal with RedBull, if you could ask any company in the world to be your main sponsor, who would it be?

MD:  Skittles!

TT:  Really?  I would not have assumed that.

MD:  Yup, skittles!  I love my skittles man.  Me and Marshawn Lynch doing a dual partnership there.

TT:  *laughing*  I can imagine what your grand slam jerseys would look like if skittles were your sponsor.

MD:  *laughing*  Can you imagine man?  It would be a rainbow out there.

TT:  *laughing*  There would a rainbow of colour all over you man.

MD:  Crush a pack of skittles before a game, you will be making about 6 triples during the game.

TT:  *laughing*  Very good.  I have to admit I am quite surprised by that answer.  I was not expecting that one.  I would have never guessed skittles.

MD:  What were you thinking?

TT:  Honestly I have no idea.  But I know that would be nowhere close to where I would have been going.

MD:  Fantastic!  Skittles it is.

TT:  Nice answer...I love that one.  Now, in speaking of Chris, he had the opportunity to play a little #AskTheCurler to you and his question was "Who is your favourite Manitoba legend in curling and who has given you the most advice to get you to where you are?"

MD:  Hmmmm.  Growing up it would have been Jeff Stoughton no doubt.  I mean that was almost everyone's favourite growing up.  It just made that experience in Korea that much cooler because he was someone I had been watching and trying to represent my game after.  That's obviously the best Manitoba curler to ever play.  Without a doubt he is my favourite curler.  The guy who has had the most effect on my game would be Reid Carruthers, no doubt!  I have worked with him for half my life here.  I talk to him before big games.  When I am not feeling it sometimes, he finds a way to pump me up and gets me going again.  With how I have matured over even the past two years, it has all been Reid.  You see how he skips.  He is a great leader out there and manages his guys really well.  He has been trying to teach me to do the same.  It obviously has worked for him this year.  Three slam finals, winner of one.  The guy does nothing but win out there.  To have him on my side is pretty cool.

TT:  No doubt.  That is awesome.  Now it is your opportunity to #AskACurler.  I have a special *surprise* guest joining me for the year-end blog.  He has interviewed you before so this is an opportunity to get a little revenge on him if you want.

<Editor's Note:  Matt did know who the special guest would be prior to the interview.  I am just keeping it as a surprise for all of you....but I am sure you can figure it out ;) >

MD:  Umm....how often do you make jokes with curlers on the ice and have you ever actually made any of them laugh?

TT:  *laughing*  Nice, nice.  You know he does have the stand up comedy background.

MD:  *laughing*  I heard he was just a backstage director for all those things.  I didn't know he actually got to go and speak.

TT:  *laughing*  I will definitely ask him about that as well and see what he has to say!

MD:  *laughing*  I'm just bugging him...he is a funny guy.

TT:  He is hilarious and is a great guy.  Well that is everything I have for you Matt.

MD:  Fantastic!

TT:  Thank you so much for doing this.  I appreciate you taking the time out late at night here to do this.

MD:  You are welcome, most definitely.  We will have to do this again.   

TT:  Once you crack that Tour Challenge Tier II win, we will have to do a follow-up.

MD:  Fantastic.  That is what the boys are looking for this year!

TT:  Ok deal!

MD:  Take it easy...cheers!

Ok rock heads, did any of you read this interview and forget that Matt is only 20 years old?  20????  Absolutely crazy to think of how young he is yet how mature he is as well.  The topic of self-reflection really hit home the most with me in our conversation.  Even at my age now I struggle at times with the idea of self-reflection....and Matt in his wise old age of 20 seems to have mastered the art form.  I honestly left the interview with a new found respect for him....and I think I already had a huge amount of respect for him coming into the interview.  Toss Matt and his new team a follow on twitter if you do not already follow them.  And be on the look out this upcoming season for his continued success...mark my words, this is a future Brier and World Champion here folks!!

Now, looking forward, stay tuned for the year-end review blog.  My very special guest and I will be breaking down our hits and misses of the season as well as handing out a few #TwineTime awards.  You won't want to miss this....

#StayTuned

Saturday, 7 May 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: A Champions Cup Rewind
Athletes weigh in on the new event format & discuss how to grow the sport


Well #curling fans, it is that time of year....the 2015/16 curling season has officially wrapped up.  The rocks have been put away for a summer slumber.  The ice has been evaporated into pools of cold water.  And curling fans, athletes and media are left to reflect on the season that was while preparing for the season that comes.

But before we get all sentimental about a tumultuous season, let's do a rewind on the final slam event of the season: The Champions Cup!  The Sherwood Park Arena Sports Center in Strathcona County sure was rocking during the final week of April.  Draws were sold out as we approached playoff weekend.  Fans were able to meet and mingle with some of their favourite athletes they have been cheering for all season long.  And the action on the ice was top notch.

When the rocks settled, two Manitoba teams ended up hoisting the Champions Cup crystal trophy...and ended team droughts.  2014 Olympic Champion Jennifer Jones finally claimed another grand slam title, her 12th overall, in defeating tour champion Rachel Homan in the women's final.  For Team Jones, this would be their first grand slam title since 2014.  On the men's side, Reid Carruthers finally removed the runner-up curse plaguing their team for the past two seasons and broke through defeating John Epping in the final.  Team Carruthers had suffered two grand slam final losses already this season but was able to overcome an almost unheard of double extra end to seal the victory.  Hmmm, interesting to note that both champions also claimed the same title to qualify for this event, the DEKALB Superspiel.  I hope the organizers of next season's DEKALB Superspiel are already developing a marketing strategy.  Come compete at DEKALB Superspiel...the road to Champions Cup glory!


Now I am sure many of you have read the countless articles and news stories about the event.  Some great team profile stories.  Stories about the organizing committee, led by Scotties champ Heather Nedohin.  Amazing draw by draw analysis and results as well.  #TwineTime was fortunate to attend the last few days of the round robin and the entire championship weekend.  The question was: how can I try and be a bit unique and different from all the other coverage going on around the event?

Well, in my preview blog post I discussed the need for this year-end championship style event and format.  How exciting this would be for both the players and the fans.  Of course, I did also offer up some suggestions on how to enhance the event a bit with a few minor tweaks.  But those were just my opinions.  If we want to talk about a new event and its success, the only way to do so is ask the players on the ice.  I took to the media area and asked a few of the top athletes what they thought about the new Champions Cup event and format.  Here is what YOUR favourite athletes had to say:

Bruce Mouat (2016 World Junior Curling Champion): Of course I am in favour of this event.  It has given us great experience for the rest of our career.  I think it is really cool with the championship experience.  Obviously we won the world juniors so that was our championship experience.  It was a bit different, there were no fans outside so we could never really hear any chants and cheers.  All the kids are really excited and we even signed a few autographs, that is kind of strange for us. *laughing*  We are here to have fun.  We are enjoying the experience and the chants.

Val Sweeting:  I think this is a good last spiel.  We were kind of on the brink of making it in.  I think you get some new teams that can get some grand slam exposure but you still have the familiar faces.  Plus the fact we get to play at home and a chance at some more money at the end of the season heading into summer, it's really good.  The main focus of our year is in December and January but the grand slams are just as important because it get's you points and Olympic trials and money.  But we just try to go out and do well.

Nik Edin:  I like the format.  I think it is kind of late in the season.  But it is a fun event to play in.  All the slams are really good.  We are excited to play here.

Shawn Meachem:  We haven't played together in about three months so it was a little bit tough coming in.  But it has been a great experience and will help us moving forward and that much closer to getting into the slams on a full time basis.  This is a pretty awesome event though and there are teams you don't normally see in the slams every week.  To grow the sport you have to give the fresh blood a chance every once in awhile.  By expanding the slams to more events and changing the qualification criteria has really expanded the opportunity for other teams to get some exposure and some TV time.  It's a lot of fun to get out there and play with some of these guys you don't get to see very often.  It let's you know where you stand, what you need to work on and where you are at.


Alison Flaxey:  It was great for us to come together, last event of the year, and playing in front of crowds and on the slam ice.  It is something our team has not really got to experience this year.  Hopefully it is something we will get to do a lot more of next year.  It is a good way to end our year and leave on a positive.  It is neat and gives a lot of opportunity for teams who might not normally get to play in these events.  It gets the fans to see some new faces and some of the up and comers.

Jennifer Jones:  The crowd has been great all week, one of the best crowds we have played in front of all season.  I think this is a good event.  It is nice to see some of the young teams have the opportunity to play in the big event and see how they do.

Jacqueline Harrison:  This is a great experience for us.  We don't get to play in these events as much as the other top teams do.  We have had a great time and learned a lot.  I think we try not to think so much about qualifying for events as we do just follow our process and be successful and we just happened to have won a few events this year.  We have been doing well which qualified us for this event which is just a bonus for us.

Krista McCarville:  It adds excitement.  You are always playing in different spiels but to win a spiel and then get invited to such a great event like this is always exciting.  It's nice to see it will be on next year as well.

Peter de Cruz:  I really like the idea of the format.  I think it is a really good opportunity for other teams to see what slams are made of.  There are a lot of slams where it is really tough for us guys to get into the slam.  This is a little extra chance with a lot of money and a lot of points.  It is a great experience for us because we are still a young team.

Greg Drummond:  I think this is excellent.  I think having a season finale of champions, really a champion of champions, is great.  Having to win a spiel to get here as well it's great for the junior teams having won world juniors and now getting to play the best in the world.  It's motivation for next season because you want to win on tour to have the chance to play at another grand slam and play in front of some great crowds.

Steve Laycock:  Yeah it is great, all the same playoff teams mind you but the field was different.  This type of event means any team playing on tour next year does have the chance to play in this event, that's really good.  If you just go off the rankings for each event, you are only going to have the same 12-15 guys playing every event.  Any single team in the country can now enter an event next season, win it, and have the chance to play here.

Kerri Einarson:  It is always nice to play in these big events.  It is a long week.  Maybe it would be nice if they could shorten it up just a little bit.  It is a lot of time away from work and families.

Reid Carruthers:  It is a great addition.  Every team had a chance to get into the event.  The only thing that may be a little tough is the teams who had a good year and are battling for funding, from that perspective, it might be tough for them not to be here and be at home watching.  But at the same time there were a bunch of tournaments for teams to get in and, for us, we were lucky to win the right event to get us in here.

We see some common themes among the athletes in why this event is a great addition to the tour.  As many fans, myself included, have commented on, the opportunity to see new faces on the ice is a huge draw and one that makes #ChampionsCup unique.  Of course teams still need to earn their place here during the season but the opportunity and motivation to potentially earn a grand slam berth from winning an event on tour should fire you up when you start the season.  Laycock's comments on every team in the country (and the world really) start the season with an equal shot at playing here.

Another common theme is the growth of the sport for both up and coming teams and fans.  The addition of the world junior champions seemed to be a huge hit with everyone.  And I could not agree more.  What an opportunity to play against the best in the world!  Sure there are still a few tweaks in the system, namely being late in the season and perhaps the length of the event, but the bigger picture was an unanimous thumbs up from the athletes supporting this format and qualification.  There is an added excitement surrounding seeing new teams at a slam and seeing how they do against the usual slam line-up of participants.  Hearing and seeing the excitement from Meachem, Harrison, Flaxey and de Cruz, for instance, of playing at this grand slam and the take home benefit for the team moving towards next season is great to see and exactly what the sport needs.  Also, having been there live, many fans were talking about some of these teams they don't get to see on TV every week.  I would be confident in saying every team competing at the Champions Cup won over a few new fans every time they stepped on the ice.

Now, in speaking on how the Champions Cup event lends itself to #growthesport, I could not pass up the opportunity to continue the #TwineTime theme of the season when I have all these incredible athletes curling in front of me.  I was able to take some brief time with many of them and ask them about how we #growthesport, whether we are speaking locally, nationally and/or internationally.  How can we encourage more junior curlers?  How can we see an increase in young girls coming to the rink and wanting to take up curling as a passion?  How can we see provinces continue to grow competitively and keep pushing for a Brier or Scotties championship?  Here is what a few of the #ChampionsCup All-Star players had to say on the topic of #growthesport:

Bruce Mouat:  I think it has to start at the grassroots stage.  Just getting kids involved and getting to know the sport.  Over here, kids are encouraged to come out and watch and we are trying that as well.  Obviously curling is not as big in Scotland but it is growing.  At my home rink we have come and try sessions every week.  We should start with the kids and build them up.

Stef Lawton:  Oh, that's a really good question.  I think having ourselves out there and getting involved with the junior teams on a regular basis definitely helps.  If we can get out there as much as we can and encourage them to come and play and show them the sport.  We started at the age of 11 and if you work at it you can do great things in the sport.  Just having us involved combined with many other volunteers.  There are only so many competitive curlers and with the time commitment but also having so many other people being involved and running the programs I think would be a huge start.

Val Sweeting:  I think there is a lot of great programs for juniors here in Alberta.  There are great opportunities.  We got better by putting ourselves in the position to play the better teams and getting the experience where you learn what you have to do.  The future is pretty exciting.  We have had Nedohin, Kleibrink, Bernard, King and now we are hoping to continue with Alberta being that tough province to be in.

Nik Edin:  It's a good question.  We are away travelling around 200 days of the year so, for us, it is about trying to get the good results and help the (Swedish Curling) Association to promote the sport.  We need some big help from junior trainers and coaches back home to try and keep the juniors we have and make the sport more attractive as well.


Shawn Meachem:  It's a great thing with curling these days.  It's a littler different than when we were kids and you would have it in phys. ed class and everyone would have to go and try it.  You don't see that as much with the schools coming out.  But there have been a lot of kids coming out to watch and they bring a lot of energy into the building.  I think there will be some kids who, if not curlers, will at least be some fans for life which is also important for the game.  I am hoping there will be kids and guys who will come out, see us and want to get out there and try it out as well.

Alison Flaxey:  I think it is upon us, the curlers who get to play in these slams, to go out there and share our skills and our experiences.  I know we do that a lot in our local rinks.  We host a junior day in our home club.  The excitement we get from having kids ask for our autographs and wanting to stick with it certainly helps.  The more we can get out there with the juniors the better the sport will be in the long run.

Jennifer Jones:  I think we need society to get on board and see that sport is healthy for us and to get our kids more involved and keep active.  We need to try and encourage participation and if we can do that, and create role models for young women to aspire to be, we will be on the right track.


Silvana Tirinzoni:  The sport in Switzerland looks healthy.  We (the top competitive women's teams) are pushing each other.  I think that is the main reason why Switzerland is so strong at the moment.  We keep pushing each other, beating each other.  Everyone has to practice really hard.  Unfortunately we are not seeing an increase in fans and media.  We get some more news in the newspaper but it would be nice if we can have more visitors to events and have more young curlers.  We are still working on that.  I think more TV time at home, televising more events, would help.  But of course for that you need sponsors and money and that is not that easy.  Hopefully in the future we can keep the good results and bring the change.

Jacqueline Harrison:  I think the growth starts at the club level.  I am very fortunate enough to belong to a large club with large membership.  I think it starts with the juniors in mentoring them and spending time with them.  Letting them know how much fun curling can be and teaching them technical stuff and strategy stuff and hoping they stick with it.

Krista McCarville:  It is tough because the number of teams are going down.  The amount of time and dedication you have to put in as well as the family support.  But I would also say everyone started where we started.  You build little by little, year by year.  When I was just 20 years old coming into women's play, it was the same as anyone else.  We slowly had to build and gain as much experience as you can wherever you go.

Peter de Cruz:  I think we need more big events in Europe.  We need more TV coverage.  That is how we can get more sponsors and more money and more time for the sport.  I think that is what is going to really help #growthesport.  We obviously have a little less growth than Canada but we do have a lot of really good facilities in Switzerland and some really good players.  If we can continue to put in the work hopefully one day we can get to that level.

Greg Drummond:  We have a good crop of men's teams in Scotland right now and it has become quite competitive between all of them.  It probably motivates us to train a little bit harder because we know these guys are looking at us with a target on our back and want to get to where we are so we need to step up a little bit.  It is encouragement for the junior teams too, seeing teams like Bruce Mouat make a slam and do well.

Steve Laycock:  I think we need to see more teams giving themselves the chance to move up.  There are some good teams in Saskatchewan and if they went out and played a bit more on tour, similar to how Meachem's team went out and played.  More teams need to go out and take that opportunity.  I know it is a bit of a risk and can be expensive.  Not all teams have the sponsorship when they start.  But everyone starts in the same place.  No team out here started with big funded seasons and had to go out and bang their heads against the wall to get to where they are.  More teams need to go out and take that leap of faith.

My final quote to end the #ChampionsCup rewind goes to men's champion skip Reid Carruthers.  Prior to the event Carruthers announced he will be hosting his own junior camp in August this year.  I had the opportunity to talk to him after their championship win about what hosting a junior camp means to him, how it helps #growthegame and what to hope for moving forward.

Reid Carruthers:  I have been doing curling camps every year since I was about 16.  I have attended camps and started as an assistant at 16, 17, 18 (years old) back in Winnipeg.  There were camps that were held in Morden, MB.  From there I took a few years off and did a few years of road show curling clinics.  It was actually from a conversation with Kaitlyn (Lawes), she had been teaching the Trillium Camp out East and she said you have to come.  I went for four years, had an absolute blast and it has been one of those things of teaching and curling.  The fact I am a teacher.  The fact that I love curling.  The fact of giving back to the juniors, everything goes hand in hand and I am more than happy to do what we are doing.  We also have to commend the efforts of some of the people who are working at it.  Team Homan has a junior camp.  We have a camp.  Kaitlyn and Jill (Officer) will be working at my camp.  Marc Kennedy has the junior classic.  John Epping runs camps.  All the instructors that work at not only Trillium but also Alberta Rocks curling club....there really is a bunch of curlers out there doing it.  But I think to have a junior camp in each province would be something that we should be striving for.


We certainly see some themes out of the responses above.  Across the board it appears everyone agrees the growth starts with giving back to the junior curling community.  A strong mentorship program develops at curling camps and at local clubs throughout the country.  It is great to see so many elite curling athletes devote time back to those who want to become the future of the sport.  As many stated, everyone started in a similar place, trying to build their game and elevate to the next level.  They had mentors...now the mentee's and becoming the future mentors.

We also see some comments on additional media coverage.  Additional sponsorship opportunities needed.  More local, national and international support towards the sport.  I do agree with these comments as well.  I think it is a combination effort from all involved: athletes, sponsors, curling clubs, media, bloggers, national associations, fans.  All of us own a certain aspect of the sport.  The sport of curling is almost like a publicly traded stock....we all need to work together to ensure the stock we are investing in rises on a regular basis.  Almost makes you excited to see what the 2016/17 curling season brings doesn't it?

Well rock heads and stoners, that puts a wrap on the curling season...events wise at least.  But do not think #TwineTime is done bringing you some exciting curling coverage.  I have a great guest interview coming up for you within the next week...trust me you don't want to miss this one.

As well, stay tuned for the season-ending special #BetweenTheSheets post where I will be joined by a very special guest to run down the 2015/16 season and talk about some of our own hits and misses.

#StayTuned