Eight Ends: Picks for the Canadian Olympic pre-trials

Fourteen men’s teams and 14 women’s teams are revved up on the Road to the Roar in Summerside, P.E.I., vying for the final couple spots on each side in next month’s Olympic Trials in Ottawa.

While these squads are looking to slip through the back door into the main event, it’s not out of the question one of them could heat up and represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.

Last time around Team Jacobs and Team Morris made it through on the men’s side and wound up facing off in the Olympic Trials final. Jacobs prevailed and went on to capture gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Granted, Jacobs was the reigning Brier champion at the time and world silver medallist, so these teams’ odds are a bit more in the longshot category.

This week’s Eight Ends blog provides a selection of teams to keep an eye on this week at the Road to the Roar Pre-Trials.

1st End: Team Einarson

The closest thing to a sure bet in the pre-trials. If Einarson’s Tour Challenge Tier 2 title win in September wasn’t convincing enough, then the team’s red-hot run through to the Masters final just last month should be. Consider Team Einarson as Smooth Jimmy Apollo’s “Lock of the Week” (yes, that’s a Simpsons reference).

2nd End: Team Gunnlaugson

Another Tour Challenge Tier 2 winner and one who also converted its title victory into a playoff appearance at the Masters by reaching the quarterfinals. Skip Jason Gunnlaugson has been down this road before, with a different crew albeit, making it through the 2009 Olympic pre-trials. More skill, more experience and more of everything should equal another successful week.

3rd End: Team McCarville

Fear the moose! Northern Ontario’s Team McCarville has reached the playoffs at the past two Scotties Tournament of Hearts with a silver medal in 2016 and a fourth-place finish this year. McCarville was runner-up to Team Sinclair at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in September. Besides, don’t you want to hear moose calls at the Olympic Trials?

4th End: Team Simmons

This all depends on which Team Simmons shows up: the one that made the playoffs at the Tour Challenge or the one that flamed out 0-4 at the Masters. The two-time Brier champ Pat Simmons brings the experience while the Toba tucking trio of Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Robbie Gordon bring the fresh firepower.

5th End: Team Rocque

With apologies to Ryan Smyth, Kelsey Rocque is Captain Canada now. Rocque has skipped the Great White North to back-to-back world junior titles (2014 and 2015) and gold at the Winter Universiade earlier this year. A solid run this tour season earns Rocque a spot on this list.

6th End: Team Morris

Morris pulled it off last time, but we’re a little more cautious here. Entering the season they looked like a shoe-in to win it — with a title victory at the Princess Auto Elite 10 in March — but Team Morris is in a slump with a 0-8 record in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling to start the year. There’s no better place than to turn that around than the pre-trials.

7th End: Team Birchard

Ah, a bit of an upset pick, eh? It would be boring if we just slotted in another familiar name here and somebody has to be the spoiler. So, what makes Shannon Birchard’s squad the likely candidate? They’ve made the playoffs at the past two Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts and already went on a roll once this year to win Saskatoon’s Colonial Square Ladies Classic tour event defeating Team Jones (twice!) en route to the title.

8th End: Team Bottcher

They’ve slipped in the rankings a bit, down to 20th in the world, but have proven their worth and captured a tour title in Medicine Hat, Alta., this season. OK, the real reason is we want to see third Darren Moulding charge down the ice to deliver another celebratory bear hug to skip Brendan Bottcher.

Extra End: Honourable mentions

Men’s: Glenn Howard already has his Olympic ticket punched as the coach of Great Britain’s Team Muirhead but will be in tough to pull off the double and represent Canada on the men’s side. Third Richard Hart (knee) is still out and taking his place is super spare Adam Spencer, who pinch hit for them at the 2016 Ontario Tankard and captured the title.

Women’s: Either Ontario crew of Team Harrison or Team Tippin. They’ve both been strong enough over the past couple seasons to slide through as the sleeper pick.