An interesting, and important, curling event is taking place in Portage la Prairie (MB) this week and most Canadians will miss out until the final results are mentioned by sports media next Sunday. Understandably, the 2018 Canad Inns Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials have received much less fanfare than the “Roar of the Rings” did last month in Ottawa where Team Homan and Team Koe won the right to represent Canada in the traditional, four-person competition at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Mixed doubles is a relatively new format in the sport of curling that involves two-person teams, one man and one woman, in a fast-paced and often high-scoring variant of the four-person game familiar to Canadians. Each team throws five rocks per end with an additional rock from each team, one a centre-line guard and the other at the back of the four-foot, pre-positioned at the start of each end. Both teams are allowed one “power play” per game where the pre-positioned rocks are placed as a corner guard and on the edge of the eight-foot as opposed to the centre line.

Many curling “traditionalists” have yet to warm up to the idea of mixed doubles, viewing it as a fun format at the local club level but not as an event worthy of recognition in the Olympic program. Well, it is time for these traditionalists to suck it up and embrace the fact that having an additional curling event in the Olympic program is good for the growth and visibility of the sport, especially in countries where it is often difficult to find four women or four men capable of playing the sport at the elite, international level. In fact, Hungary and Spain have never qualified a team for either the Men’s or Women’s World Championships yet have won multiple medals at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships.  Canada has won two medals at the World Mixed Doubles Championships with the team of Allison Flaxey and Sean Grassie winning a bronze medal in 2009 and the team of Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers winning a silver medal last year.

For those in our audience that will be paying attention to mixed doubles curling for the first time, the field in Portage is wide open. The Trials might start a bit slowly as teams deal with nerves, a bit of competition rust and work their way into the competition. However, expect the intensity and level of play to pick-up very quickly with a spot in the Olympics on the line.

It is important to note that shortly after mixed doubles was added to the Olympic program, Curling Canada decided that they would not allow a curler to participate in both the four-person and mixed doubles events at the Olympics. As such, don’t expect to see members of Team Homan and Team Koe competing in Portage even though five of the players on those two teams had originally qualified for the Trials. As a result, Reid Carruthers, John Morris, Tyrel Griffith, John Epping and Jennifer Jones were each allowed to select another partner. Following is a list of the teams competing in the Canad Inns Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials:

Jennifer Jones & Mark Nichols, Val Sweeting & Brad Gushue, Dawn McEwen & Mike McEwen, Kaitlyn Lawes & John Morris, Chelsea Carey & Colin Hodgson, Jill Officer & Reid Carruthers, Sherry Middaugh & John Epping, Dana Ferguson & Brendan Bottcher, Shannon Birchard & Jason Gunnlaugson,
Jocelyn Peterman & Brett Gallant, Kalynn Park & Charley Thomas, Laura Crocker & Geoff Walker
Nancy Martin & Catlin Schneider, Marliese Kasner & Dustin Kalthoff, Kim Tuck & Wayne Tuck
Emilie Desjardins & Robert Desjardins, Nicole Westlund Stewart & Tyler Stewart,
Sherry Just & Tyrel Griffith

The team that wins in Portage will be expected to medal in Pyeongchang but will have to face tough competition from countries such as Switzerland, China, the United States and a team of “Olympic Athletes from Russia”.

For more on the Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials, this week’s edition of the From the Hack podcast (posting Tues. Jan. 2nd) includes interviews with Chelsea Carey, Brett Gallant and Reid Carruthers discussing the Trials.  The first draw starts on Tuesday, January 2nd at 8:00 a.m. Central Time.

For more information on Mixed Doubles rules: https://goo.gl/g5i7vD
CBC Sports streaming: https://goo.gl/hdcUN5

(Photo credit – Curling Canada)

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Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials