PENTICTON, B.C. — Michelle Englot offered some frank advice to those fretting over some of the inflated scores at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
“They all need to chill out,” the Team Canada skip said in response to comments about the one-sided results at the Canadian women’s curling championship.
“Cut them a break because they are here trying their very best and trying to grow the sport in their province. It’s good for the sport.”
It might be down the road, but right now it can be painful to watch, with some of the weaker teams at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts barely keeping up with the stronger competition.
The reason is tied to Curling Canada’s 14 member associations wanting to have true national champions from the Scotties and the Tim Hortons Brier.
To accomplish that, the member associations voted that all their provincial and territorial champions would compete in the Brier and Scotties. Thus the Yukon Territory and Nunavut were added to the fields at the national events.
To accommodate the new representatives, the fields were expanded from 12 teams to 16. At the Scotties, one spot was awarded to Team Canada and the other to the winner of Friday’s wild-card game between the top two teams on the Canadian Team Ranking System that didn’t qualify for the national championship.
The Scotties began Saturday with the possibility of less competitive teams being blown out by more experienced squads. That happened on Sunday when Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones thumped Chelsea Duncan of the Yukon 14-1 in just six ends, two fewer than the mandated eight, because the game was so out of hand. On Tuesday, Alberta’s Casey Scheidegger rolled past Nunavut’s Amie Shackleton 11-4.
Nolan Thiessen, a three-time Brier winner and a former world champion, is Curling Canada’s athletic liaison officer. He serves as a liaison between the high-performance athletes and Curling Canada’s staff.
Once it was understood that the member associations weren’t going to budge on having 14 provincial or territorial representatives at the national events, Thiessen formed a committee that was tasked with creating a new format. That led to the current arrangement being used to decide the champions at the Scotties and Brier.
“A lot of people are going to complain about the format and there not being good games,” Thiessen said. “Is that a function of the format or is that a function of the member associations’ commitment to high-performance curling?
“It’s up to the member associations to create strong reps as well. Curling Canada is responsible for the national-team program and if the provinces produce strong teams, it doesn’t look like this.”
It’s asking a lot for Nunavut and the Yukon to produce competitive teams in just the first year of the project. Englot, however, feels that people have to be willing to look at the long-term impact of the changes.
“It’s good for a team like Nunavut to be here and to encourage young girls there to play,” Englot said.
“They have a young girl at third who throws a really good rock. Maybe they will get more curlers out to play and that’s what the sport is all about. It’s building the sport at the grassroots level. It’s not a bad idea to give them a chance to play against teams like ours, so they can see the strategy and improve on their game.”
That entails suffering through some of the blowouts in the preliminary round-robin. Thiessen expects the championship round — which features the top four teams from each pool — to be more competitive.
“There are going to be four really good games on the ice at the same time,” Thiessen said. “It just compresses everything into the second half of the week.”
Scheidegger expected there to be a disparity between some of the teams in the field during the preliminary round-robin.
“That’s the reality of having an event like this,” the Alberta skip said. “I don’t know what the best way is and I feel for Curling Canada for having to figure this out. There are many options that you can do.
“I like the wild-card option because it gets another strong team playing for the national title. I don’t know what the best way is because I don’t work for Curling Canada and I’ll just go with the flow.”
Thiessen and Curling Canada are aware of the concerns over the format. He said that any format has to meet the requirements of the curlers, organizers, sponsors and broadcast rightsholder TSN.
“I’ve heard from people who don’t love this format, so provide a solution,” he said. “Just don’t point out the things that are wrong. Let’s find something that is better. Right now this is best we have based on the situation.”