With his win in Okotoks, Brendan Bottcher took over the top spot in our rankings this week. This ends the reign of Brad Gushue which lasted over a year, dating back to August 22, 2022. It is also the first time a team other than Gushue or Bruce Mouat has held the top spot since March 13, 2021 when Bottcher himself was #1…for exactly one week. Bottcher’s stay, albeit with a completely different team, could be brief again as Gushue and Bottcher are the top two seeds in the single-elimination Pointsbet Invitational this week.
Gushue’s fall from the top was largely due to a loss to #31 Owen Purcell at the Shorty Jenkins Classic. This is noteworthy because, based on end-of-season ratings, Gushue’s losses to teams outside the top 25 since the 2018 Olympics are highly rare.
Team Gushue losses to teams outside the top 25 by season
2021-22: #40 Sturmay
2019-20: #38 Ullsrud, #67 Kilma
2018-19: #38 Glukhov, #118 Nyman
So that makes it six losses in six years to teams outside the top 25. Yikes.
At the moment, the men’s ratings reveal a two-tiered system among elite teams. There’e the top nine, and everybody else. Ninth-ranked Kevin Koe is almost exactly as close to #1 as #11. And #11 Magnus Ramsfjell is closer to #25 than #9.
On the women’s side, we have had the return of Chinese curling to the international stage. The last time we saw Yu Han in a non-age restricted event was in the 2021 worlds. (She did appear in last year’s World University Games.) Back then as easily the most talented Chinese curler on the women’s side, she was inexplicably benched/demoted mid-event and China finished one game out of the playoffs.
But Yu is back and her team beat Kate Cameron fairly easily in the finals in Edmonton on Monday, which puts them at #18 in the ratings. They are currently #80 in the WCF team rankings, so there will be no slams in their near future, but expect them to be rocketing upward in the coming weeks.
At the top of the women’s ratings is the name of 48-year old Heather Nedohin. On this site, we use the name of the person who has skipped the most games for their team in the current season. So yes, that is Team Homan at the top, but by virtue of Nedohin subbing as skip for the team’s first event of the season, she gets the honors. And she’ll keep them for at least another week as Team Homan will get a maximum of four games as the Pointsbet this week.
Speaking of Pointsbet, the single-elimination format is pretty useful for elite curling. For one, it’s a much better experience for the viewer as every game has something on the line. Your typical spiel or slam has either pool play or triple knockout, and while almost every game means something, a lot of those games don’t mean everything. And in my experience commenters do a poor job of conveying what’s on the line in most games prior to the playoff round.
But in a single-elimination event, there is no need to explain what’s on the line. Every end has maximum importance. The top teams can be eliminated with a few bad shots. Every game is a possible memory. There are no memories being made on a Wednesday at a random slam.
In addition, the format adds a dose of randomness that elite curling badly needs. For over two years, either Gushue or Mouat was the top-ranked team in the world in my ratings. Curling skills don’t come and go like skills in other sports. Professional golfers can win majors and then go through incredible slumps. And in team sports with active defenses and detailed scouting, team performance can be unpredictable.
But not so in curling. That’s why Team Gushue can be one of the best in the world every single year. It’s why Curling Canada is handing out automatic bids to the Brier and Scotties before the season begins.
As a participant, this is a feature. As a fan, it’s a bug. The lure of watching sports is seeing unexpected things happen. But there are no Cinderella stories in curling. The sport’s structure and traditions are set up to protect the top 8-10 teams, year after year.
Pointsbet is a nice idea that’s clearly trying to copy the NCAA basketball tournament. The problem is they need to actually copy the NCAA basketball tournament. Put the event at the end of the year – there’s an opening with the Champions Cup canceled – and make it 64 teams and invite the whole world. (Make all of the games eight ends, too.) It would give teams who have no chance of making a slam something to play for all season. The top 64 is in reach for so many teams!
And for those of you who wish to see Bottcher vs. Gushue or Mouat vs. Edin or Mouat vs. Gushue or Edin vs. Bottcher every week, you’d still get those games later in the event. But you’d also get some moments where those teams would be in danger of losing to lesser teams and being sent home early.
In fact, most games would have those moments. And every once in a while a team most people haven’t heard of would wreck the event for one of those teams. Which would be awesome.
Some of the lower ranked teams might be reluctant to travel for potentially just one game, but you could hold the event over consecutive weekends (Friday to Sunday). The first weekend, you’d hold it at four (or eight) regional sites to limit travel and cut the field down to 16.
The second weekend would be an appropriate end to the curling season, featuring a mix of the best teams in the world and a couple of teams simply looking to spoil an elite team’s weekend and validate their season-long work in curling’s shadows. It would be a smash hit, I guarantee it.