On Tuesday, the first slam of the season will begin. It’s probably the best one of the year. I clamored for a 64-team event in my last post, and this is a 64-team event. It’s missing the thrill of single-elimination, but at least there are a bunch of unfamiliar faces playing. Even if most of them are relegated to the Tier 2 event which won’t get any air time.
However, I don’t want to talk about the best teams in the event. I want to talk about the best teams not it the event. Consider this your Tour Challenge anti-preview. You’re not going to read this before the event anyway. (But if you want the probability grids for each event, we have them.)
This is really an excuse to highlighting differences between the doubletakeout.com ratings and the WCF ratings. The top 32 teams as of September 18 were offered invitations to this event. If the ratings posted on the WCF web site are to be believed, the top 31 on both the men’s and women’s side accepted. Both teams listed at #32, Kelly Knapp and Corryn Brown are not in Niagara Falls this week for some reason. But they are far from the best teams excluded.
On the men’s side, the highest (doubletakout.com) ranked team not playing is #11 Felix Asselin. The brothers Asselin are competing in the World Mixed Championships this week so they wouldn’t have fielded a team here even if they had been invited.
Asselin was in the Tier 2 event last season and lost to eventual champ Korey Dropkin in the semifinals. Team Asselin has appeared in two Quebec-based events this season with a semifinal finish at the loaded Shorty Jenkins Classic (2nd toughest field so far this season) and a finals loss in the not very loaded Invitation Valleyfield.
The next best team not in this week’s field is #17 Yves Stocker. Stocker went 4-1 in pool play at the Shorty Jenkins (including a win over Nik Edin) and somehow didn’t qualify for the 8-team playoffs. Team Stocker is languishing at #36 in the WCF rankings, but there should be better times ahead.
The only other men’s team in our top 32 and not in the field this week is *gulp* #28 Glenn Howard. I had not realized how much Team Howard has struggled this season. They are 5-10 this season and their best win is over #58 Pat Ferris. The team has tumbled after finishing last season at #11. Glenn is a part-time skip at this point and that isn’t helping. Sadly, it’s possible we’ve seen his last slam appearance.
On the women’s side, the non-participants are highlighted by two China-based teams, #6 Yu Han and #14 Rui Wang. Both teams started the season from scratch points-wise after returning from a multi-year covid-imposed absence.
Yu Han is 21-4 on the season and by my count, 7-1 against teams in the Tour Challenge fields. But the Team Han hasn’t been able to get into the best events so far and are a wild #45 in the WCF rankings. Wang has a similar story, playing in the same events as Han and going 17-6, but sitting a woeful #50 according to the WCF.
And in a not-so-fun twist Han and Wang met in the finals of last weekend’s Alberta Curling Series event. Then they elected to no play each other. There is no Woj of curling, so there was no reporting on what exactly happened, but it appears kind of shady from the outside. Wang was awarded the event championship by forfeit, but forfeits are ignored at doubletakeout.com.
Other notable women’s teams that are absent this week include #17 Krista McCarville (typical light schedule) and #19 Corryn Brown. Team Brown has actually played quite well, including wins over #5 Fujisawa and #7 Gim. They’re #23 as of this week in the WCF rankings, so the rankings are starting to converge.
I will make one observation about the actual field. The WCF’s underrating of Asian women’s teams extends beyond the two Chinese teams. There are three Asian teams in the Tier 2 event and they are top three choices to win: #9(!) EunJung Kim, #13 Sayaka Yoshimura, and #15 Ikue Kitazawa. If Team Kim wins it’s not out of the question that they’ll be ranked higher here than the team that wins the Tier 1 event.