Relegation a Hot Topic at Canadian Mixed Curling Championship

Thursday night’s 16th draw of the Canadian Mixed Curling Championship was big not only for the teams fighting to get into the 3-team playoff, but also for the teams at the bottom of the standings. This year marks the third year of relegation for the event, which means that the two bottom teams will be forced to play in a pre-qualification just prior to the main event next year in North Bay, ON.

Those two teams will battle with Nunavut and Yukon – who did not make it through the pre-qualifying this year – for the final two spots in the main draw. While the Canadian Curling Association (CCA) likes to avoid the word ‘relegation,’ that’s what’s happening.

The main complaint against the relegation system is that not all provinces and territories will be represented at the national championship. Ed Sattelberger, who skipped Nunavut’s entry in the pre-qualifier, was blunt in his assessment, saying “if you’re going to hold the Canadian championship, hold the Canadian championship.”

The players this week have been nearly universal in criticizing relegation. “I hate it,” said Northwest Territories skip Stephen Moss. “I hated it right when they first started talking about it.”

Moss’ team out of the Yellowknife Curling Club had to play in the pre-qualifier this year, which created some unique logistical problems. “You tell them where you work that I need this much time, but then if I do good then I need this much more…and you don’t really know what to pack, you’re packing to come for two weeks and you might only be here for four or five days,” he said.

While many casual curling fans are not familiar with relegation, they soon will be as the system is scheduled to implemented at the Brier and Tournament of Hearts starting next year. Each territory will have their own entry while a Northern Ontario representative will be added to the Scotties and the defending champion will be invited back to the Brier as Team Canada.

The field for the round robin will not expand, however, so certain teams will not play in the main draw.

“I don’t agree with relegation at all,” said PEI third Kathy O’Rourke, “especially in this mixed and even the seniors, I think they could come up with a system that would let all teams play so it’s a truly a national championship.”

“Don’t like it,” said Ontario lead Amy McKay. “That’s a pretty common feeling on our team. This is a national championship and we think every province and territory should be a part of it.”

Many people feel as though the changes are particularly punitive to the Northern and Atlantic Canadian teams, who cannot regularly travel to major bonspiels. “Unless you have a terrific sponsor, you’re not going to be able to do it,” said PEI skip Rod MacDonald.

MacDonald had an interesting way to work around the problem, saying that “right now, there’s getting to be nothing for the average curler to play in if they can’t play Dominion [a national tournament featuring club champions], so I guess my view is that they should make the Brier into an amateur event, have the winner of the Players’ Championship go to the World’s and just make the Brier…a little more amateur than it is now. Most teams aren’t going to compete at that level unless you’re almost like a pro curler and that’s what those teams are.”

Nova Scotia skip Rob Harris, a former Mixed and Brier champion, agreed that the sport at the national level is becoming increasingly profession. “They call curling the friendly game, so once upon a time it really was that and I don’t think it’s in the essence of our sport,” he said. “So somebody goes to a national and they feel like they deserve to be here, which they do, and they’re here for a few games and have to go home. So it’s tough from the friendly sport perspective, but now that we’ve got an Olympic medal sport, this is more than an amateur sport…and we need to align ourselves with the other sports and that’s what they’re doing. I don’t love it, I don’t ever want to be in it, I don’t want to put my province in it, but I think it’s a necessary evil.”

While a majority of the players do not like relegation, some have pointed out that there are logistical limitations that make it difficult to have all provinces and territories represented in the main draw.

“I think everyone would probably prefer if every province and territory was in the competition. I understand that there are some limitations of having a 14-team event so I understand the reasoning for it,” said Manitoba second Scott McCamis, adding that “nobody’s happy about it.”

New Brunswick third Marcel Robichaud added that “ideally, I think it’d be nice if all the teams can play in the round robin [but] obviously the CCA has a reason why they want to do that and that’s their prerogative. Whether we have to play 12 teams or 14 teams, we’re just happy to be here.”

“I’d like to see all the provinces play,” said Alberta skip Darren Moulding. “It’s not an easy problem to solve – I’ve racked my brain for hours thinking about it and there’s no easy solution.”

Regardless of how much the players dislike the system, it appears as though it’s here to stay.

“Nothing much I can do about it. It sucks for the two teams that don’t make it. Sad to see them go [and] awkward to say bye to them, but if that’s what the CCA wants to do, I can’t do anything about it” said New Brunswick skip Sylvie Robichaud.

As a result, teams that fell out of the playoff race early in the week have still had to pay close attention to the standings. In Thursday night’s draw, the British Columbia v. Northern Ontario game was arguably the most intriguing matchup as not only did British Columbia need to win to avoid relegation, but a B.C. win would also have brought Northern Ontario into the relegation picture. With the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador also on the ice, perhaps the most compelling aspect of the evening was watching the bottom of the standings.

With British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northwest Territories all losing, who gets relegated comes down to Friday morning’s final draw. British Columbia (2-9) has the morning off, but Newfoundland and Labrador (1-9) and Northwest Territories (2-8) are playing. If the team from Yellowknife wins or the foursome from Corner Brook loses, then it will be British Columbia and Newfoundland relegated next year.

The only chance for the team from Vancouver to avoid relegation is to have Newfoundland and Labrador beat New Brunswick and have Ontario top the Territories. That would create a three-way tie at 2-9 and, because the teams all went 1-1 against each other, relegation would come down to a statistical tie-breaker. (Full standings can be found here]

Given the unhappiness expressed over relegation this week, using stats to determine which team avoids relegation will likely contribute to the discontent. And while there has been discussions at the CCA about playing tie-breaking games in that scenario – just as they do to determine playoff spots – there’s a chance that it won’t come soon enough for at least 1 team.

Day 6 Notes: Alberta’s 8-5 win over Newfoundland and Labrador guaranteed the team from the Coaldale & Airdrie Curling Club a spot in Saturday’s final. Depending on Saskatchewan’s game Friday morning, the two teams may finish with identical 9-2 records, but Alberta would win the tie-breaker based on their 10-5 win over the team from Swift Current in Draw 4…Newfoundland and Labrador skip Gary Oke was unable to play on Thursday night due to an illness. He was replaced by local player Don Bowser. Bowser also spared for Ontario on Tuesday when second Greg Balsdon had to miss a game with a hip injury…If tie-breakers are required to determine the playoff teams, they will be played Friday afternoon. Barring multiple tie-breakers, the semi-final will be played on Friday night at 7:30 with the Final set for Saturday afternoon at 2:00.

Update: Newfoundland and Labrador lost 7-3 to New Brunswick this morning. The loss clinched the worst record for the team from Corner Brook and Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative will have to play in the pre-qualifier next year. Despite their loss to Ontario, the team from Yellowknife avoided relegation as they tied with British Columbia at 2-9, but won the tie-breaker because they beat the team from Vancouver in the round-robin. As a result, next year’s pre-qualifier will feature British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, and Yukon.

The Ontario and New Brunswick wins left both teams with 8-3 records, meaning that they will have to play a tie-breaker Friday afternoon to determine the final playoff spot. The winner of that game will play the semi-final Friday night against Saskatchewan (9-2), while Alberta (9-2) awaits the winner in Saturday’s final.


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