The first major event in the United States of the 2016-2017 curling season hits the ice this weekend in St. Paul, MN. The St. Paul Cash Spiel brings to town 20 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams to contest for purses of $12,400 and $6,450, respectively. All of USA Curling’s High Performance Program (HPP) teams are in the field alongside the organization’s junior rinks and other top-level self-formed squads. Following an eventful first month of the season which saw little in the way of separation between the top US teams in terms of results, the Cash Spiel should bring some order and perhaps a shake-up to the standings.
September started off on a high note for US men’s rinks, with Heath McCormick’s foursome finishing runner-up at the Ontario Curling Tour Fall Classic and Craig Brown’s team making the semifinals. The following weekend, McCormick took home third-place honors at the Harbin International in China and Brady Clark went to the semifinals in the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard Tier II event. Two teams from Washington (Lyle Sieg and John Shoesmith) made the playoffs at the Cloverdale Cashspiel the next weekend, but the past two weekends have seen no US team make it to the playoffs.
The women’s competition among US teams has been quite tight, with all three HPP rinks making the semifinals in one of their three World Curling Tour events to date. Jamie Sinclair would start this run at the OCT Fall Classic, with Nina Roth picking up the torch the next weekend at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and Cory Christensen joining the party two weekends ago at the Kitchener-Waterloo Fall Classic. Despite the successes, none of those three rinks have made the playoffs in their other events, with Roth showing the best in losing a tiebreaker at the Prestige Hotels Curling Classic in British Columbia this past weekend. Another US team, led by former Olympian Jessica Schultz, made the playoffs at the KW Fall Classic, adding to the tightness of the standings race.
Three rinks from the Coyotes Curling Club in Phoenix are heading to St. Paul for this weekend’s event, and I had the opportunity to inquire of them how curling has come to gain a foothold in their corner of the world, one that most wouldn’t think of when they consider curling hotbeds in the US. All the teams from Coyotes mentioned the great weather providing year-round programming for the club and how the winter guests from Canada and northern US climates have injected enthusiasm and support for the sport in the Valley of the Sun. Additionally, those snowbirds also brought a high level of curling experience to the club and made it possible for teams to develop and take on the challenge of playing in tour events. The teams from Phoenix had high praise for the fields they will face at St. Paul and hope to hold their own against them, but are seeking to use this event as preparation for national-level competition (club nationals for the women, and US Nationals for the men’s teams) later in the year. Coyotes will be hosting the Golden Wrench Classic in January, one of the last bonspiels of the season prior to national championship playdowns for US and Canadian men’s teams.
Another rink from the west coast competing in St. Paul is Team Lyle Sieg from Seattle. The 2015 World Senior Curling champions, Sieg’s rink comes to the Twin Cities on the heels of a semifinal appearance at the Cloverdale Cashspiel earlier this season. Lead Steve Lundeen credits the competition level at the Granite Curling Club (their home facility and the home of current US Men’s champion Team Brady Clark and US Mixed champion Team Fred Maxie) with helping them stay sharp and elevating their game. Clark’s foursome will also be competing in St. Paul, hoping to build upon a decent start to their season.
The St. Paul Cashspiel kicks off on Friday morning at 9am with round-robin play Friday and Saturday and playoffs on Sunday. More information can be found at the event’s page on the World Curling Tour website (http://www.worldcurl.com/events.php?task=Event&eventid=4276), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/StPaulCashSpiel/), or from its Twitter account (http://twitter.com/spcc_cash).