The COVID-19 epidemic may have brought a premature end to the curling season cancelling all remaining events, but it’s never too early to think about next year as it also accelerated a flurry of roster changes.
What a difference a year makes as both of last season’s Pinty’s Cup winners Team Homan and Team Koe have made moves while the 2019 Canadian women’s champions Team Carey have totally disbanded. It can be a bit mindblowing to see top teams shaking things up, but it’s not entirely surprising.
“All of the players at the top of the sport are so competitive and when they don’t get the results they’re seeking, they look to not just personnel changes but any changes to get to where they want to get to,” said skip Jason Gunnlaugson, whose own team appears on our list. “Sometimes that would be a personnel change, so I’m not overly surprised at all to see some moves being made.”
As Gunnlaugson explains, although we’ve hit the halfway mark on the road to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, it’s better to pull the trigger now rather than hit the panic button before it’s too late.
“You really don’t want to be in a situation where you have to make moves next year,” Gunnlaugson said. “Yes, it’s the middle of the cycle but truthfully the way the system is set up, you need to have a good year next year and you don’t want to have to switch after next year.”
Here are the top team changes you need to know for 2020-21.
1st End: Team Homan (Ontario)
Details: Team Homan parted ways with longtime lead Lisa Weagle. Second Joanne Courtney slides over to lead with former Team Carey third Sarah Wilkes joining at second. Wilkes, who lives in Edmonton, was born in Toronto and will use her birthright status for the team to continue to play out of Ontario.
Analysis: If you thought you were shocked, Weagle told the Canadian Press she “wasn’t part of the discussions and it was a decision that was taken by the team.” Yes, Team Homan won three straight Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles last year, but they also missed the playoffs in all four events in the series this season. This was a move I actually heard rumblings about over the years when Wilkes subbed on Team Homan at the 2017 Humpty’s Champions Cup (and won the title) then again during the 2018 Players’ Championship when Courtney and Weagle switched spots in the throwing order. Although Team Homan will lose Weagle’s shot-making skills, the belief is they’ll gain more through Wilkes’ stronger sweeping.
2nd End: Team Jones (Manitoba)
Details: Weagle didn’t last long on the free-agent market latching on with Team Jones as an extra player. Weagle will serve as the team’s out-of-province import.
Analysis: Homan’s loss is Jones’s gain. Weagle is too good to sit on the bench and we’ve seen McEwen take some time off during the past couple of seasons. Why not have an all-star lead in your back pocket?
3rd End: Team Koe (Alberta)
Details: The 2019 Canadian champions and Pinty’s Cup winners said goodbye to Colton Flasch and hello to John Morris, who has won just about everything in the sport as a skip or third from Olympic gold to world and Brier championships plus 11 Grand Slams.
Analysis: Koe started the season ranked No. 1 in the world and finished the year No. 10, so a change should have been expected. Adjusting to second could be a challenge, however, most seconds need that shot selection of a third these days (see E.J. Harnden of Team Jacobs, Brett Gallant of Team Gushue and Mat Camm of Team Epping as examples of former thirds who have thrived at second). Morris has focused on mixed doubles during the past two seasons and should bring a renewed energy and approach.
4th End: Team Rocque (Alberta)
Details: Team Rocque changed up their front end parting with second Becca Hebert and lead Jesse Marlow to add Team Carey’s former teammates Ferguson and Brown.
Analysis: This move is huge for a team that’s on the rise. Rocque, who has finished runner-up at the past two Alberta Scotties, brings in a couple of players who have won provincials three times, captured the Canadian championship and have also claimed three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles. Chemistry isn’t an issue for the duo known as Pooks and Fergie as this will be their ninth season together. Another advantage over their competition is all four play out of the same club at the Saville Centre in Edmonton.
5th End: Team Gunnlaugson (Manitoba)
Details: Third Alex Forrest stepped back to spend more time with his family. Casey was already holding the brush in the house during skip stones and moves up from second to third as Wozniak, winner of seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles with Team McEwen, enters the fold.
Analysis: Another popular curler returns to the men’s game after spending the past couple of seasons in mixed doubles. Wozniak should be a solid fit for the reigning Manitoba champions and is good friends with Gunnlaugson dating back to their days playing together in juniors. Njegovan’s older brother was also part of their junior squad.
6th End: Team Silvernagle (Saskatchewan)
Details: Third Stefanie Lawton decided to take a step back and the double defending Saskatchewan champions also parted ways with lead Kara Thevenot. Streifel skipped her own squad last season with Demers at lead.
Analysis: A merger of two of the top teams in the province. Silvernagle’s squad was the breakout team last season but slipped to No. 29 in the world this year. This could be the change to get them back on track.
7th End: Team Arsenault (British Columbia)
Details: Arsenault, who won five national titles with skip Colleen Jones, made her final appearance for Nova Scotia in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this year and now heads west to B.C. linking up with the trio who won back-to-back Canadian championships in 2006 and 2007 with Kelly Scott.
Analysis: Aha! Bet you got caught slipping and missed this announcement amid the free-agent frenzy? Things just got interesting in B.C. with the addition of this dynamic squad.
8th End: Team Duncan (Ontario)
Details: Really this is the squad formerly known as Team Balsdon. Duncan takes the reins as Balsdon drops to third (parting ways with Lynn Kreviazuk).
Analysis: You’re looking at the best threat to challenge Team Homan in Ontario. Duncan won the provincial title in 2018 and finished runner-up to Homan this year while Balsdon, Strybosch and Bobbie came in second last season when the trio played with skip Julie Tippin.
Free-agent frenzy isn’t over with some notable players still available beginning with two-time Canadian champion Chelsea Carey. Considering Carey won both of her national titles in her first year with new teams, that should be enough of an incentive for anyone to seek her talents. Although based in Alberta, we wouldn’t be surprised if Carey looks to her former province of Manitoba. … Speaking of Manitoba, second Leslie Wilson-Westcott is back in the game reuniting with lead (and sister-in-law) Raunora Westcott. They shouldn’t have a problem finding a skip and third in the curling-mad province. … Three-time USA Curling national champion Jamie Sinclair is on the market as her teammates decided to head in another direction without her. Remaining part of the High-Performance Program and forming a new squad would be one option. Sinclair is a dual citizen living in Ottawa and could explore options north of the border although she’d be ineligible to compete in competitions towards Canadian championships for two years rendering that a moot point pretty much.