The 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts has arrived, with a cluster of contenders looking for the crown in St. Catharines, Ontario. Those contenders include a would-be repeat champion, a skip looking for her third national title, and three veteran skippers who would like their long sought-after first championship.
These are the four teams (in no particular order) I feel are most likely to be in the playoffs when the round-robin portion of the Scotties is complete.
The defending champions, Chelsea Carey’s Team Canada rink, have already proven their worth with last year’s run to a championship. It’s true that they are ranked merely 19th in the World Curling Tour’s (WCT) Order of Merit Standings (year-to-date) and have only one win, besting a small field at the Hokkaido Curling classic, in Japan. A less than stellar season includes quarter-final finishes at The Masters and National as well as out-of-the-playoffs finishes at the Canada Cup and the Tour Challenge. In this field, though, a playoff spot should be in the cards and this is a team that should get better as the week goes on.
Ontario, skipped by Rachel Homan, returns to nationals after being shocked at provincials in 2016. Homan has the top-ranked team at this event, sitting third in the WCT year-to-date standings. They have three wins to their credit this season as well as silver medal finishes at the Canada Cup and The Masters. In eight events, they’ve only missed the playoffs once, that being at last month’s Canadian Open. You don’t need me to sell you on this team, though, right? Homan is seeking her third win at The Scotties.
Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville is back, looking to improve upon her team’s silver medal from a year ago. Perhaps you could be forgiven for under-rating them last year as McCarville was returning to action after a year away from competitive curling. They flew a little under the radar despite having a pretty impressive season leading up to The Scotties. They’re lightly played this season and have just the one win but this is a team that has the goods. Last year, they were a stealing machine on the way to the final and you can expect them to once again put all kinds of pressure on opponents when they do not have hammer.
Manitoba, skipped by Michelle Englot, is the tenth-ranked team in the WCT’s year-to-date standings. Englot, a seven-time Saskatchewan champion, took over a very good squad when Kristy McDonald decided to step back from the game for at least this season, leaving third Kate Cameron, second Leslie Wilson and lead Raunora Westcott looking for a skipper. Bringing in Englot has paid off and it showed early, as the foursome made the final at the Grand Slam’s Tour Challenge, last November, falling to Val Sweeting. They knocked off Jennifer Jones in the page playoff game at the Manitoba Championship, then defeated Darcy Robertson in the final, after Robertson upset Jones in the semi.
While the above are my four predicted playoff teams, there are a couple of rinks just below that could find their way in should one or more of the contenders falter.
Alberta, skipped by Shannon Kleibrink, is the most dangerous team in this category and you could sure make a case that they ought to have been plopped down with the “contenders.” Kleibrink has been suffering from back troubles and those ailments saw the team call on Heather Nedohin to skip a couple of games at the Alberta Scotties. While Nedohin won those games as a sub, Kleibrink was back to win the page playoff as well as the final and was up to her old tricks in doing so, earning raves for her ability to make something out of nothing when things were looking dire. Nedohin – a Scotties champ in 2012 – will skip some games in St. Catharines and even if Kleibrink was unable to play at all for some reason, this team would chug along just fine. Their second, Sarah Wilkes, is a superstar in the making.
British Columbia is skipped by 2009 Scotties silver medallist Marla Mallett, who is appearing in her fourth national championship. Her third, Shannon Aleksic, is appearing in her fifth. They won a tour event back in September, emerging in a field that included Carey, Kleibrink, Sweeting and Kerri Einarson.
Prince Edward Island’s Robyn MacPhee and Quebec’s Eve Bélisle skip teams at the top of this grade. MacPhee is skipping in her first Scotties but has oodles of experience at other positions, with this being her eighth Scotties appearance, overall. Bélisle is skipping at her third Scotties while her third, Lauren Mann, skipped a Quebec team at the 2015 nationals.
Saskatchewan’s Penny Barker came through what most observers have called a down year in that province’s women’s curling scene. Nova Scotia (Mary Mattatall’s crew will be a sentimental favourite – they range in age from 56 – 61) and Newfoundland & Labrador are in this group, while Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and New Brunswick will tangle in the pre-qualifier stage, with one moving on to the main draw.
Prediction: Team Homan gets back to the top of the Canadian curling mountain, with a win over Team Carey in the final.