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Eight Ends: Midterm grades for new curling teams

It’s report card season in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling as we’re handing out midterm marks to the new teams.

The deck was shuffled for the start of a new Olympic cycle and now we’re checking in on how some of those retooled rosters have been doing so far. We’ve also called upon our MC Peter Steski, one of the Original 18 skips in the series, to provide his insight and analysis for making the grades.

Note: We’re only looking at totally new Canadian teams that have played in the top-tier Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events or ones that made a back-end adjustment, so don’t flip out if your favourite team isn’t listed.

1st End: Team Einarson — Gimli, Man.

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Record: 42W – 12L
World Curling Tour Order of Merit: 399.373 points (4th)
World Curling Tour Year-to-Date: 282.801 points (3rd)
Steski’s Grade: A+

Team Einarson have exceeded expectations winning four WCT events already including the prestigious Autumn Gold Curling Classic in Calgary. They’ve certainly silenced the critics who doubted a squad featuring four skips at different positions could work together as they’ve all bought into the system and are on the same page.

Steski Says: Compare them to any other team, male or female, and it’s just not close. … I figured Kerri’s team was going to be good, I just didn’t think they’d be this good, this fast. They had a whole season under their belt before they showed up to Truro (for the Canadian Beef Masters). They didn’t have to play another game and they already had a monster year.

2nd End: Team Koe — Calgary

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Record: 25W – 9L
WCT OOM: 478.173 points (3rd)
WCT YTD: 262.111 points (1st)
Steski’s Grade: B+

Koe and Hebert are the only holdovers from last season’s Canadian Olympic Team with Team McEwen’s Neufeld and former skip Flasch joining the middle of the order. They been very selective and strategic with their schedule not playing a ton compared to other teams but they’ve also made the playoffs in all of their events with a win at the inaugural Curling World Cup plus runner-up results at the Canadian Beef Masters (Truro, N.S.) and Canad Inns Men’s Classic (Portage la Prairie, Man.)

Steski Says: I think these guys have the most upside. Runner-up in the Masters and Portage, which is basically runner-up at two Slams. … I gave them a B+. It might be higher other than you would have liked to have seen them either win the Masters or Portage where they were favoured. … Once they start to smooth things out, Flasch starts to fit in and play better because he’s capable of that. I’m a fan of Flasch. These guys could be as good as the old Koe team for sure. I don’t think they’re there yet but they will be.

3rd End: Team Fleury — East St. Paul, Man.

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Record: 25W – 17L
WCT OOM: 350.423 points (5th)
WCT YTD: 168.384 points (8th)
Steski’s Grade: B+

Fleury, from Sudbury, Ont., is fitting in with Einarson’s former teammates. After missing the playoffs at a few key events — Shorty Jenkins Classic, Princess Auto Elite 10 and Canad Inns Women’s Classic — they’ve managed to turn things around with a quarterfinal finish at the Canadian Beef Masters and a runner-up result at the Tour Challenge Tier 1. The latter event saw Team Fleury roll off six consecutive wins until sustaining their lone loss in the final to Team Homan. They appear to have found their groove as they prepare to represent Canada at the Curling World Cup event in Omaha, Neb.

Steski Says: I think this could be a situation where Tracy has a different skill set than Kerri. Kerri loves big shots, runbacks, cross-house doubles and stuff like that. Fleury is more of a touch player and maybe she’s calling a simpler game and getting more out of the team. … They’re quietly the second-best of the new teams. It’s funny because they got off to that slow start. It’s your first impression you make, people look and they’re like yeah that team’s not going to be very good because they didn’t do well early but they’ve really found a way now to make it work and they’re beating good teams. I just wish they were playing, for their sake, out of Northern Ontario.

4th End: Team Epping — Toronto

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Record: 31W -15L
WCT OOM: 399.500 points (5th)
WCT YTD: 252.697 points (2nd)
Steski’s Grade: A or D depending on which team shows up but overall B+

Epping and Camm added a new front-end duo reuniting the veteran pair of Laing and Savill. They found success early on in the season winning the Shorty Jenkins Classic and captured the Canadian Beef Masters, the only new team to win a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title so far this season. They’ve played eight events but they’ve also missed the playoffs at three tournaments including the Tour Challenge Tier 1, which took place right after their spirited Canadian Beef Masters title victory.

Steski Says: Jekyll and Hyde. … It’s always sort of been John’s problem. As they adjust to each other more, I think they will become more consistent and the experience of Laing and Savill will do that for them. … Him and Camm are very streaky, so you’ve got to take the good with the bad. You’re looking more for the slugging percentage out of this team than you are batting average or on-base percentage. They have two wins and two semis, that’s a solid start to the year. I think at the start of the year if you told them that they’d win a Slam and one other spiel they’d be happy and they still have four Slams left.

5th End: Team Dunstone — Regina

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Record: 36W – 12L
WCT OOM: 301.635 points (13th)
WCT YTD: 203.611 points (7th)
Steski’s Grade: B+

Dunstone is back in the skip’s spot after throwing second and then fourth last season for Team Laycock. The two-time Canadian junior champ from Winnipeg also stayed put in Saskatchewan as the import linking up with Moskowy (Team Carruthers), Schneider (Team Morris) and Kidby (Team Casey). Team Dunstone hit the road early and often competing in nine events and it paid off as they started the season 18th on the Order of Merit and have climbed up to 13th to bypass the Tier 2 completely and solidify their spot as a legit elite team. They sport an impressive 3:1 win-loss ratio, qualified for the playoffs seven times with titles wins at the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic (Vernon, B.C.) and DEKALB Superspiel (Morris, Man.)

Steski Says: I do like where Dunstone’s team is trending. … They have fun out there. They’re a team that everybody is playing the position they want to play, everyone is playing the position they’ve always played. They’ve surprised me actually. They’ve done better than I thought. I figured they’d do OK in the pigeon spiels but they’ve actually done really well in the real stuff. … They’ve played their way into the Slams now. They’re up to 13th. Year-to-date points, they’ve got to be looking good right now to get themselves into the Players’ (Championship).

6th End: Team Carruthers — Winnipeg

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Record: 23W – 14L
WCT OOM: 339.579 points (9th)
WCT YTD: 160.976 points (14th)
Steski’s Grade: C-

Former “frenemies” joined forces as Carruthers slid over to third but still skips with McEwen tossing fourth stones. It worked well to start with a runner-up finish at the Princess Auto Elite 10 and a title victory at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. They hit a wall though missing the playoffs in three consecutive big events at the Canad Inns Men’s Classic, Canadian Beef Masters and Tour Challenge Tier 1. This is usually the time of the season when Carruthers heats up, could the quarterfinal finish at the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic (Penticton, B.C.) be a turning point?

Steski Says: I think out of the teams in the men’s, people probably thought they would have the easiest adjustment because of how close Mike and Reid are as friends, but they have the biggest adjustment in terms of position. Mike’s now sweeping, something I don’t know he’s ever done in men’s and then Reid has never played third. Even back in the day when he was with [Jason Gunnlaugson], Reid skipped, so they’ve had the biggest adjustment. They came out really hot and now they went through an awful period. They got back on track in B.C. but then they lost to Paterson. It’s a bad loss.

7th End: Team Walker — Edmonton

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Record: 14W – 15L
WCT OOM: 295.187 points (7th)
WCT YTD: 119.764 points (17th)
Steski’s Grade: C-

Walker, formerly at third for Team Rocque, returned to skipping duties bringing in veterans Overton-Clapham and Peters from Team Carey plus Team Sweeting’s Olson-Johns. Team Walker is the odd one on the list here as they’re the only club that hasn’t played in a final and actually hold a sub-500 record. Still, they’ve qualified in four events including the Princess Auto Elite 10 and Tour Challenge Tier 1 but playoff success has eluded them so far.

Steski Says: You give them credit, they qualified in two Slams but they’ve got a losing record. They’ve won some key games for those Slam points but their year-to-date for points they’re at 119 and Flaxey is at 112. … Even the Autumn Gold, they qualified A-side (of the triple knockout). That’s a Slam field so they’ve basically qualified in three Slams but no success after that.

8th End: Team Flaxey — Winnipeg

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Record: 24W – 19L
WCT OOM: 217.798 points (17th)
WCT YTD: 112.499 points (19th)
Steski’s Grade: D

An amalgamation of three different squads with Team Englot’s Cameron and Westcott adding skip Flaxey, from Caledon East, Ont., and Team Rocque’s McDonald making the move from Edmonton to Winnipeg. Team Flaxey claimed the DEKALB Superspiel and finished runner-up at Winnipeg’s Mother Club Fall Curling Classic. They’ve played in eight events qualifying for the playoffs in half of them, however, the other half that they’ve missed the playoffs have been heavy hitters including the Autumn Gold Curling Classic and Tour Challenge Tier 1.

Steski Says: You look at what they haven’t done well in and I think that tells more of the story. They didn’t qualify at Autumn Gold, they didn’t qualify at Tour Challenge, they didn’t qualify in Portage. They are not a Tier 1 team. I said it when they put this team together, I didn’t think they’d be Tier 1. … I think what you see is what you get. They’re 24-19 but their actual tour record could be closer to 10-17.

Extra End: Team Carey — Edmonton

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Record: 21W – 16L
WCT OOM: 294.538 points (8th)
WCT YTD: 164.657 points (9th)
Steski’s Grade: Incomplete

We couldn’t leave Carey’s new crew off the list but at the same time, it didn’t feel right to evaluate them since we haven’t seen their actual lineup in action yet with Brown away on mat leave. Having said that, Heather Rogers performed an admirable job subbing on the Slam circuit and helping them reach the semifinals at the Canadian Beef Masters while Breanne Knapp filled in as the super spare for their title victory at the Canad Inns Women’s Classic.