With no curling action this past week, the rankings take a break as well. Instead, we will recap the first half of the 2016-2017 season and the teams that have brought much joy and consternation to the US curling community.
Team Heath McCormick started the season off with a bang, finishing runner-up at the OCT Fall Classic in Oakville (ON) and third at the Harbin International event in China. Their first of four wins thus far came a few weeks later at the St. Paul (MN) Cash Spiel, with more hardware taken home from the Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic in Sarnia (ON), the Coors Light Cash Spiel in Duluth (MN), and the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth (MN). At 46-17, they have 12 more wins this season than the #2 US team on tour and 20 more than #3. Up next for the rink is the Canadian Open, their first Grand Slam of Curling event (more next week, along with highlights of my interview with lead Tom Howell).
Team Craig Brown has gone 34-21 so far this season, qualifying for the playoffs six times in nine events, and making the finals at St. Paul in addition to three other semifinal appearances. Their latest result was a fourth-place finish at the Qinghai International event in China two weeks ago. With McCormick not competing at the US Open this week, now is as good a time as any for Brown’s rink to break through with a win and build some additional momentum heading into USA Nationals in February.
Beyond those two, the rest of the US men’s contingent has been a little underwhelming. Outside of Todd Birr, no other team is more than one game over .500 this year, with defending world bronze medalist John Shuster sitting at 26-28 with only three playoff qualifications (the three US-based tour stops) in 10 events and defending US champion Brady Clark at 24-23 and two semifinal appearances from their five playoff qualifications. The five aforementioned teams have qualified for USA Nationals, with the men’s challenge round (four berths available) to be played next week in Blaine, MN at the Four Seasons Curling Club/US Olympic Training Center. Can an up-and-comer such as Stephen Dropkin, Brandon Corbett, or 2017 World University Games representative Alex Leichter put together a solid week to snag a berth at Nationals and then ride that train to a high finish in Everett?
On the women’s side, this season has been a tale of no clearly dominant team. Team Jamie Sinclair sounded the first shot with a semifinal appearance at the OCT Fall Classic and has been the most consistent team so far (six playoff appearances in nine events, most points year-to-date, 30-22 record). Nina Roth‘s foursome has the best winning percentage of the US teams on tour (30-17) and has picked up a first (Duluth), a second (St. Paul), and a third (Qinghai) in their five playoff qualifications. Cory Christensen‘s band of upstarts defended their title in St. Paul in October and has qualified for the playoffs in all three US-based tour stops, but a 20-18 record hampered by three-and-outs in multiple events shows that consistency is an issue. Those three rinks along with Team Jessica Schultz picked up auto-berths to USA Nationals and will avoid the challenge round in Waupaca, WI next week. 2006 Olympian Cassie Potter and her team will be the overwhelming favorites for one of the three berths, but who among the other five teams will find enough form to pick up the other two spots?
This week is the US Open of Curling in Blaine, MN. With the Canadian Open starting immediately afterwards, McCormick and Shuster have opted to skip this event, but the rest of the US men’s and women’s qualifiers are in the field, alongside Qinghai finalist William Lyburn, defending Canadian junior champion Matt Dunstone, former world champions Alina Paetz and Bingyu Wang, and past Scotties Tournament of Hearts representatives Tracy Fleury, Krista McCarville, Sherry Middaugh, and Robyn MacPhee. Action begins Friday at 2pm and runs through Monday afternoon. We’ll recap the event along with publishing the new rankings and preview the US challenge rounds in next week’s edition.