Eight Ends: Canadian men’s curling teams power rankings

Team Brad Jacobs hit a couple very key shots along the way to knock off Team Gushue, and successfully defend his Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge title.

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The 2019 Canada Cup is here with the top men’s and women’s teams in the nation facing off this week in Leduc, Alta., looking to lock down spots for the 2021 Olympic Trials.

We ranked the women’s teams last week, this week it’s time to sort the men’s division. Once again we called upon Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling MC and analyst Pete Steski to share his thoughts.

1st End: Team Brad Jacobs

Team Jacobs have been rejuvenated with new third Marc Kennedy taking over for Ryan Fry as they’ve been in the mix at every event they’ve competed in. Jacobs won the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 title in Pictou County, N.S., earlier this month and lost the quarterfinals of the Masters in North Bay, Ont., to eventual champions Team Matt Dunstone. Elsewhere on tour, they were runners-up at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., captured the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard and sustained just one loss in the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic this past weekend in Penticton, B.C., falling to Team Bruce Mouat in the quarterfinals.

Oh yeah, they’re also the defending Canada Cup champions when Kennedy filled in for Fry.

Steski says: I think they’re the best team in the world right now. Marc has fit in very seamlessly and it probably gives them new energy. They had a long run — a successful run — with Fry. … I’d say out of all of the teams, in a very tight field, they are playing the best right now.

2nd End: Team Brendan Bottcher

They weren’t No. 2 on our initial list, however, they’re now coming in hot after winning the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic. The Edmonton club was rolling at the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 as well until running into Jacobs in the semifinals.

Bottcher won the last three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events this past season and also finished runner-up to Team Koe at the Brier.

Steski says: At the end of last season, you could make a strong case that they were the best team in the world. … For them, they’re off to a slower start this year, I think, partly because of the rankings and partly because they’re not quite a household name yet. They get overlooked but they are obviously capable of steamrolling this event. They’re just that good. (Darren) Moulding is playing great, a lot of the guys say (Brad) Thiessen is the best sweeper in the game and Brendan seems to manage the team really well. To say they’re a dark horse is a joke but nobody seems to talk about them. … It could be (their event). They’re not afraid to win big events. If you can win a Slam you can win a Canada Cup.

3rd End: Team Brad Gushue

They’re back! After an uncharacteristic down season last year, the St. John’s, N.L., crew top the Pinty’s Cup standings with back-to-back runner-up results in the first couple of GSOC events. That alone gives Gushue, an 11-time GSOC title winner, a boost heading into the Canada Cup.

Steski says: It’s nice to see Gushue back in the top 10 in the world. … I think Brad manages his team as well as anybody. … I don’t know whether it’s been a bad break here or there but they haven’t had the success in the last year, year-and-a-half that they normally do. … They seem to have turned the corner. They’re back to being one of the best teams in the world. … Again, it’s like (Rachel) Homan. If you’re going to make a living betting against Gushue, you’re probably not going to have a very successful life.

4th End: Team Kevin Koe

This was a tough one but we haven’t seen much of the real Team Koe this season with B.J. Neufeld missing the first couple of GSOC events while on paternity leave. Kirk Muyres filled in at the Masters (missed playoffs) and John Morris joined them for the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 (semifinals). They’re the reigning Brier champions and world silver medallists and finished runner-up here last season.

Steski says: I think it’s hard to say how good they’ve been this year because they missed B.J., but when it comes to a Curling Canada event, Kevin’s always got to go in as the favourite. I mean, he’s won four Briers and a Canada Cup. … Whatever it is, he just turns it up another gear when it comes to these Curling Canada events.

5th End: Team John Epping

I know what you’re thinking, how do you put the No. 1 ranked team in the world fifth? They soared to No. 1 on the strength of back-to-back wins in September at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and Shorty Jenkins Classic and have been holding onto the top spot since then with a semifinal finish at the Masters and a quarterfinal result in the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic after going undefeated through preliminary play. They did miss the playoffs in the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1, which does but a blemish on their record.

Epping brought in Fry at third and shifted Mat Camm down to second and Brent Laing to lead, which has resulted in a much better fit for everybody.

Steski says: It used to be a case where John had to get hot because his team wasn’t as strong as the other teams whereas now you could argue that they’re right in the mix at every position for having a top-three player. Now John doesn’t have nearly as much pressure. Having Fry on the team it just seems like they’re having more fun on and off of the ice and obviously it’s easy to have fun on the ice when you’re winning. They’ve really gelled early and you can’t argue with their success. … It’s an open field and it’s pretty tough when you rank them fifth and they’re legit the No. 1 ranked team in the world. It’s tough but I do think this is the best team John’s ever had and the results already have shown it.

6th End: Team Matt Dunstone

Team Dunstone have had a roller-coaster season. Dunstone captured the Masters in October, the first career GSOC title for the 24-year-old skip, and finished runner-up to Epping at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard. The Regina-based team has missed the playoffs in their four other tournaments this season though including the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic heading into the Canada Cup.

Steski says: Even though they won that Slam, the hardest part is finding that mountain top again in a field this deep. They can definitely do it because again if you can win a Slam, you can win a Canada Cup. They just need to play at their highest level on a more consistent basis. They have all the tools that the other teams have but Jacobs seems to just do it game after game after game whereas they have some ups and downs. … They’ve got a great relaxed approach that it would be a surprise to see them win this in one way and in another if they play their best they have a chance. … They’re a team that can ride the momentum and it can go the other way against them as well similar to what we said about Chelsea (Carey) in the women’s.

7th End: Team Glenn Howard

Placing Team Howard at the bottom is more of a reflection of the rest of the field. Howard, who has won 14 GSOC titles as a skip, recently captured the Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic and qualified for the playoffs in both GSOC events but comparing that to winning a Grand Slam or being ranked No. 1 in the world or making multiple Grand Slam finals and that’s what landed them in the No. 7 spot.

Steski says: Coming off of a big win in Halifax, I talked to Howard after and he’s extremely happy. He’s 57 years old and still throws it great. … Scott Howard is I want to say the key to the team. Glenn is always going to make his fair share of shots and be able to keep the guys in but if Scott continues to play at the level that he showed in North Bay (moving up to skip) and he showed most of last year playing third, they can make their way into the playoffs. … Glenn’s obviously more experienced than anybody, he’s not afraid to play anybody and he’s beaten everybody. … Glenn’s coming in hot, they’re playing fairly relaxed as well and I think it’s a different approach. For years Glenn would have come into this event as the favourite or one of the favourites and now he comes in as an underdog but he doesn’t feel like an underdog and he doesn’t play like an underdog.

8th End: Closing thoughts

Can you say stacked? This was a way tougher power ranking list to assemble than the women’s division with every team here a legit contender for various reasons.

“This is basically the Olympic Trials and to have Howard ranked seventh just shows you how strong the field is,” Steski said.

While we have Team Koe listed at No. 4, they could easily be No. 2, which is where Steski had them on his list. The gap between all the teams is practically negligible.

As for predictions? Steski is leaning towards another Jacobs-Koe showdown.

“If I had to predict, I would think there’s a good chance we’ll have a repeat of last year’s final,” Steski said.

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