The 361 Degrees World Men’s Curling Championship begins this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada and before going any further, let’s answer one of the more pressing questions…“361 Degrees” is a Chinese supplier of shoes and sporting goods. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s take a look at what we might expect when teams from 13 countries start play on Saturday afternoon.
In a scenario not that much different from the just completed World Women’s Championship in North Bay, the two countries that most curling fans will have their eyes on in Las Vegas are Canada and Sweden. Team Gushue, Canada’s representatives in Vegas, come in having defended their title at the Tim Hortons Brier and will look to become the first team to repeat at the World Men’s Championship since the “Ferbey Four” did it for Canada in 2002 and 2003. Team Gushue has had another excellent curling season winning five events including the Brier and two Grand Slams. The only real disappointment this season being their failure to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics, losing in the semi-final of the Canadian Olympic Trials in a game where the opposing skip, Mike McEwen, simply did not miss much.
The other “headliners” in Vegas will be Team Edin of Sweden who lost in last year’s final to Canada. How good is this team? They have won five events this season, reached the final in four others and yet most curling insiders would agree that it has not been a great season; the biggest disappointment being a loss in the final at the Olympic Games. Team Edin had been dominant over the last portion of the Olympic cycle and went into the Olympics expecting to win gold. The team played very well in the first part of the round-robin in Pyeongchang but simply could not find their best form in the gold medal game against the United States.
Both Canada and Sweden will be competing against a field that has been somewhat depleted due to the Olympic Games. Several countries will not be represented in Vegas by their highest-rated teams although there are a few teams in the field that could certainly cause a surprise. The two teams that stand out the most among the remaining countries participating in Vegas are Korea and Scotland. The Koreans are coming off a difficult Olympics where they had to play under the intense spotlight of being the home team. That being said, Chang-Min Kim and his team came back to finish 4-5 in the round-robin in Pyeongchang after starting the event at 0-4. It has been a breakout season for the team from Uiseong, winning the Pacific-Asia Championship, making five other finals and moving from 55th to 23rd in the World Rankings.
The Koreans lost three of those finals to one team and that team happens to be representing Scotland in Las Vegas. Bruce Mouat and his team from Edinburgh were viewed as one of the better young teams on the World Curling Tour to start the 2017-18 season but few expected them to win six events this season, including a Grand Slam title. Team Mouat have played both Team Gushue and Team Edin once each this season, in Grand Slam events, and have lost both games by a single point.
Of the remaining teams in the field, Norway is the most likely to make some noise in Vegas. Team Walstad has qualified for their second consecutive World Championship and will look to improve on their 5-6 record in Edmonton last year. This has not been a terrific season for the 17th ranked Norwegians although they did qualify for their first Grand Slam final, losing to Team Gushue at the Tour Challenge in September.
If they show good form in Vegas, the five teams mentioned are likely to qualify for the playoffs. After that, it will be a Las Vegas crap-shoot for the final playoff spot. The United States and Switzerland are likely to be in the mix but neither country is represented by their top-ranked teams with neither Team Shuster or Team de Cruz playing in Vegas. The remaining teams are a combination of teams from Europe and Asia ranked in the 40’s and higher in the World Rankings along with a very young team from Japan that few people know anything about.
There will be many questions answered as the round-robin progresses at the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championship in Las Vegas:
Will Team Canada be able to maintain the form they showed at the Tim Hortons Brier?
Will Team Sweden be fully recovered from the disappointment of losing the Olympic final?
Will Team USA be able to follow-up on Team Shuster’s success in Pyeongchang and be spurred on to the playoffs by the home crowd?
Will one of the “young guns” from Scotland or Norway be able to take advantage of the dearth of top-ranked teams at the event caused by the end of the Olympic cycle and win an unexpected world title for their country?
Will we get one of those “out of nowhere” stories where perhaps an Italy or a Germany get on the roll of their lives and make serious noise in Vegas?
As it was in North Bay, there will be plenty of stories and drama along the way but it would be Las Vegas style surprise if we did not get a repeat of the 2017 world final.