The USA Nationals begins on Saturday in Everett, WA, and for eighteen teams (ten men’s and eight women’s), the opportunity to be declared the top curling rink in the United States and the possibility of representing the US at the World Curling Championships are on the line. Heath McCormick and Nina Roth are currently ranked #1 both on the World Curling Tour Order of Merit year-to-date standing and in the most recent US Curling Power Rankings and have to be considered slight favorites to leave the Pacific Northwest next Saturday with national titles, berths to the World Championships, and qualification for the Humptys Champions Cup.
Both the men and women will play a full round-robin (nine games for the men, seven for the women), followed by playoffs for the top four men’s teams and top three women’s teams. So how does a team go about winning this event? I can point to three key elements that will be essential for a team to finish at the top of the podium.
- Form. A team needs to be peaking heading into the event as well as within the competition. Get off to a slow start and you might not have enough games left to climb into a playoff position. Also, a hot start that isn’t sustained can result in running out of gas by the end of the round-robin.
- Luck. Yes, you need to be a little lucky, both on-the-ice and with the schedule makers. Not every game will go perfectly (caused either by a tough opponent or less-than-stellar shooting), and teams that want to win nationals need to grind through a bad game to get results. As for the schedule, a front-loaded one can put one behind the eight-ball on qualification if the wins don’t come, whereas a back-loaded one might give a team a false sense of security heading into the final matches of the round-robin.
- NO BAD LOSSES. Teams need to take care of business against opponents they expect to beat if they wish to be around for the playoffs. A top team that stumbles against one down the table brings more of the pack into play for tie-breakers and/or playoff positions, while a team around the bubble who gets upended can miss them altogether.
With that said, how do I expect things to shake out? I will give you three teams that CAN win or be in the mix when the games finish (a favorite, an “if not” team, and one to watch out for).
Favorites: Heath McCormick and Nina Roth. McCormick has won four titles on the World Curling Tour this season along with compiling an 18-3 record against other US rinks. Roth has one title and two finalist appearances on the season and her extra competition schedule (Curling Night in America, the Americas Challenge) has kept the team on a roll during this down portion of the season.
If Nots (meaning who wins if not the favorites): Craig Brown and Cory Christensen. Brown has had a respectable season (eight playoff appearances, 18-6 record vs. US rinks) and could snag this title from McCormick if they meet twice in the playoffs (Page 1/2 and the final). Christensen has been consistent in the US-based events this season (qualified for playoffs in all four, including a title in St. Paul) and has beaten Roth twice in three meetings to date.
Teams to Watch: John Shuster and Cassie Potter. Shuster’s team has rounded into better form over the past two months (final at Duluth, final at Curl Mesabi, playoffs at the Canadian Open) and have the big-game experience to be in the mix when the playoffs arrive. Potter has been relatively consistent in a limited competition schedule and, should she take care of business against the bottom half of the field, could pip Jamie Sinclair for the third playoff spot (currently on a three-game winning streak against Sinclair).
Live streaming and results can be found on the 2017 USA Curling Nationals website.