There were two teams that caught our attention in the round-robin by surpassing the expectations of many observers. Dana Ferguson and Brendan Bottcher are both accomplished curlers that few people were pointing to as a pre-event favourite. Both players looked comfortable with the ice conditions from the outset and looked at ease in communicating with each other on the ice. Ferguson and Bottcher finished 2nd in Pool B and should have a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs.
For their part, the daughter/father team of Emilie and Robert Desjardins were a surprise in part because they are not as well-known as several of the other curlers in the field but also because Emilie happens to be the youngest competitor in the field at just 18 years of age. It would have been easy for such a young player to wilt under the pressure of playing in such an important event and perhaps for Emilie Desjardins, her lack of experience in big events may have been a case of ignorance being bliss. Having watched this young lady compete in a few games at the Mixed Doubles Trials, her composure and execution certainly belied her youth and relative inexperience. Perhaps the Desjardins will be disappointed to have missed the playoffs in Portage but, when they reflect on the Mixed Doubles Trials in a few weeks or months, it will no doubt be an event that neither father or daughter will ever forget.
In the early stage of its growth in Canada, before being added to the Olympic program, there was a handful of teams that became unofficial mixed doubles “pioneers” in Canada at a time when players on high-ranked Canadian men’s and women’s teams had little reason, or interest, in playing mixed doubles. These were teams included players that you might not see in the final at a Grand Slam, Scotties or Brier but that still played the sport at a high level and, although it might be unfair to refer to these players as “mixed doubles specialists”, they did put more time and energy into perfecting the craft of playing mixed doubles than most of the teams competing in Portage.
Many would argue that it would have been healthier for the future growth of mixed doubles in Canada if a couple of these “mixed doubles specialists” teams would have made a deep run into the playoffs at the Mixed Doubles trials to prove that you do not have to play on a Grand Slam calibre team to have a legitimate chance at representing Canada in mixed doubles at the Olympics. Unfortunately, the five teams in Portage that most people would put into the “mixed doubles specialists” category finished with a cumulative record of 9-31 in the round-robin with none of the teams qualifying for the playoffs.
In 2016, the team of Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant won the Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships and were quietly viewed by many as one of the pre-event favourites in Portage. Although they have both had success early in their respective curling careers, it would have been easy for them to struggle under the spotlight of being among the favourites at the Mixed Doubles Trials, especially after their respective disappointments with their four-person teams last month in Ottawa. Peterman and Gallant did not shy away from the expectations during the round-robin, went undefeated to finished first in Pool A and stayed focused enough to defeat the team of Officer/Carruthers handily in the final round-robin game.
Following the results at the “Roar of the Rings” in Ottawa last month, 5 players had to find new partners for the Mixed Doubles Trials. Luckily, the depth in Canada made it relatively easy to replace their original partners with very talented players. The result was that 3 of the 5 “new” partnerships (Jones/Nichols, Officer/Carruthers and Lawes/Morris) managed to qualify for the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see if Curling Canada re-visits their decision of not allowing a player to compete in both the men’s/women’s and mixed doubles at the Olympics despite the success of these “new” partnerships in Portage. After all, players will be expected to play in two or three mixed doubles events each season during the next Olympic cycle to accumulate enough CTRS points to qualify for the next Mixed Doubles Trials and despite all that additional effort, travel and time away from family a player could end up going to the Olympic Trials without their regular partner.
Different But Similar
Reigning Canadian champion and World Mixed Doubles silver medalist Reid Carruthers was one of the players who had to switch partners following the Trials in Ottawa. Whether by design or coincidence, Carruthers replaced Joanne Courtney, his regular partner, with Jill Officer who has a very similar skill set. The result is that Carruthers, who has become a student of mixed doubles, did not have to change his in-game strategy or approach heading into Portage allowing him and Officer to focus on communication and getting used to each other’s tendencies in the early part of the round-robin. The result was a 5-3 record and a spot in the playoffs.
Although Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue are among the best curlers in the world, it is fair to say that most curling observers did not rank them among the favourites to win the Mixed Doubles Trials. There was more talk early in the Trials about whether they had the ability to sweep effectively than there was about their chances of making the playoffs. After a wobbly 0-2 start, Sweeting/Gushue won five of their final six games to finish at 5-3 and qualify for the playoffs.
It looked like the team of Laura Crocker and Geoff Walker were going to hit their first speed bump of the Trials in their final round-robin game against the team of Sweeting/Gushue, falling behind 6-0 after two ends. However, Crocker/Walker fought all the way back scoring points in six of the final seven ends on their way to a 9-8 extra-end victory. It was the second time in three games that Crocker/Walker came back from a big deficit to win the game including scoring four points in the 8th end of their game versus Lawes/Morris on Wednesday to win 11-10.
The only tiebreaker required following the round-robin will see the team of Carey/Hodgson go up against the team of Martin/Schneider at 8:30 a.m. Central on Friday morning. The Round of 8 playoff matchups are as follows:
Peterman/Gallant vs Winner of Tie-breaker
Lawes/Morris vs Ferguson/Bottcher
Jones/Nichols vs Officer/Carruthers
Crocker/Walker vs Sweeting/Gushue
Play in the “Round of 8” will begin at 3 p.m. Central on Friday afternoon.