Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympic Curling Preview - Men

I posted my predictions for the women earlier, and I’m just getting my men’s picks in under the wire. The biggest question left after all my research?



One think we can all agree on, is this will be one sexy Olympic bonspiel. Anyway, on to the predictions.


Thanks For Coming

Russia
Second: Andrey DROZDOV (Skip)  Fourth: Alexey STUKALSKIY (Vice-Skip)
Third: Evgeny ARKHIPOV Lead: Petr DRON  Alternate: Alexander KOZYREV

Germany
Third: John JAHR (Skip) Fourth: Felix SCHULZE (Vice-Skip)
Second: Christopher BARTSCH Lead: Sven GOLDEMANN  Alternate: Peter RICKMERS

Russia’s getting better, but that’s only because they’ve been sinking money into the program to be competitive. I think this is a blip on the radar for Russian men’s curling. The biggest thing they've got going for them is Petr Dron, who is probably the tallest curler in this field. We’ll just nickname is Drago from here on out. To be competitive, Russia even tried to import some Canadians and make them citizens. It almost worked, but when it came to renouncing Canadian citizenship, they balked. Shocking. They are the benefit of the host country birth. Otherwise, the USA wouldn’t have had to play in the Olympic Qualification Event (OQE).

Speaking of the OQE, that’s how Germany got through. They ran the table in the European B group, then played their way back into the A group for next year. At the OQE, they finished the round robin in a four-way tie for first at 5-2, but got the first seed by virtue of head-to-head match-ups and/or last shot draw or whatever it was. They beach the Czech Republic and boom, in the Olympics. You know the phrase “Act like you’ve been there before?” I’d celebrate like that too if I’d made it to the Olympics, but I think this team might be the definition of “Happy to be here.”

Could Be Medalists But Probably Won’t

USA
Fourth: John SHUSTER (Skip) Third: Jeff ISAACSON (Vice-Skip)
Second: Jared ZEZEL  Lead: John LANDSTEINER  Alternate: Craig BROWN

China
Fourth: Rui LIU (Skip) Third: Xiaoming XU (Vice-Skip)
Second: Dexin BA Lead: Jialiang ZANG  Alternate: Dejia ZOU

Denmark
Fourth: Rasmus STJERNE HANSEN (Skip) Third: Johnny FREDERIKSEN (Vice-Skip)
Second: Mikkel POULSEN  Lead: Troels HARRY  Alternate: Lars VILANDT

Switzerland
Fourth: Sven MICHEL (Skip) Third: Claudio PAETZ (Vice-Skip)
Second: Sandro TROLLIET  Lead: Simon GEMPELER  Alternate: Benoit SCHWARZ

As much as I want to believe that Shuster and company can pull off a medal, I don’t know how real that chance is. I like this team a lot, and it speaks volumes that Shuster has found his way back to the Olympics after he has been immortalized in the Urban Dictionary from his 2010 campaign. The case for them is that they’re a really gutsy team that takes chances and can score big ends. They won the US Olympic Trials handily and finished the OQE with the best record, having to win a tie breaker, then beat the Czech Republic. The knock on them is the aforementioned Urban Dictionary entry and the fact they’re susceptible to giving up big ends (See the first game against Pete Fenson in the Trials finals where he almost blew a 5 stone lead). There is massive upside to this team, but I don’t know that they get there through this field. Definitely not finishing 10th (Thanks, Russia). Somewhere in the middle sounds about right.

China owns the Pacific, having won it six of the last seven years, including the last three. However, they haven’t made a big dent of the world stage, finishing 6th in both 2012 and 2013 at the World Championships. They've got more experience than Russia and Germany (Though Jahr is pretty old) and will be hanging out with USA, Denmark, and Switzerland playing spoiler and maybe getting into a tie-breaker situation.

This Denmark rink is a team on the rise, but they’re not there yet. They had a good showing at last year’s World Championships by finishing fourth, up from their previous high of 7th in 2012. They’ve been just out of the medals at the last two European championships as well. Adding Canada, the USA and China into the mix doesn’t spell medal for Denmark to me.

Sven Michel's Swiss rink are the current European champs, beating Norway in the final. Before that, they finished sixth in 2011-12, and Seventh at world's in 2011 and 2013. So, has this team finally made the leap? Or did they get hot and benefit from a struggling Sweden, Great Britain, and a Norway team that hasn't been able to finish of late? I think it's a bit of the latter that will be exposed by the extra competition and higher pressure of this tournament.

There’s a chance for any of those teams to make a tie-breaker round. Of this middle group, I think Switzerland has the best chance to break out, though I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. USA is the biggest question mark to me, and I think could be a dark horse. That's probably just homer talk though.

The Playoffs

Sweden
Fourth: Niklas EDIN (Skip) Third: Sebastian KRAUPP (Vice-Skip)
Second: Fredrik LINDBERG Lead: Viktor KJAELL  Alternate: Oskar ERIKSSON

Great Britain
Fourth: David MURDOCH (Skip) Third: Greg DRUMMOND (Vice-Skip)
Second: Scott ANDREWS Lead: Michael GOODFELLOW  Alternate: Tom BREWSTER

Norway
Fourth: Thomas ULSRUD (Skip) Third: Torger NERGAARD (Vice-Skip)
Second: Christoffer SVAE Lead: Haavard Vad PETERSSON Alternate: Markus HOEIBERG

Canada
Fourth: Brad JACOBS (Skip) Third: Ryan FRY (Vice-Skip)
Second: E.J. HARNDEN Lead: Ryan HARNDEN  Alternate: Caleb FLAXEY

Last season Sweden won the European and the World Championships, and impressive feat signaling they’ve really arrived. However, they followed that up this season by finishing fifth at the Euros and been rather lackluster on tour. Edin also has some back issues that saw him miss some time in previous seasons. Don’t know if that’s an issue again or not, but I just don’t see this team making it to the podium this year. Last Olympics this same rink finished fourth, and that's about where I see them again, but I honestly don’t know if they make it to the playoffs other than tie breakers. I’m giving them the edge for having Eva Lund as their coach.

Thing is, I’m not really sold on Great Britain either. This five man rotation thing is kind of dumb, and it doesn't really seem to be working. Basically, Tom Brewster’s team was doing really well, finishing second at the worlds in 2011 and 2012. Murdoch’s team disbands/retires/whatever and Muddy has shoulder surgery. He’s part of the program and too accomplished and too handsome to leave on the sideline, so they throw him on Brewster’s squad and now they’ve finished third at last year’s world’s and third at the last Euros. They haven’t exactly been lighting it up and again, USA, China, and Canada are in the mix (They lost to Brady Clark’s American squad in Victoria).

So, Norway. The Pants. They’ve got nine looks for their nine round robin games. I enjoy the flair, but hate the fact every other club curler now wears the most gaudy pair of pants they can find, with little regard to how to compliment them with a decent shirt. Rant aside, this is one of the most consistent teams around and they're the only other team beside Sweden to bring back their 2010 Olympic team fully intact (China is 3/4 there). Always competing at world’s and the Euros, they last won the European Championship in 2011, defending their 2010 win. They won silver in Vancouver losing out to Kevin Martin’s Canadian juggernaut. They’re going to get tons of attention for their pants, win some games, find a lucky pair and probably roll into the finals.

Where they will lose to Canada. This Brad Jacobs team seemingly came out of nowhere, but it’s clear these guys are some of the hardest working curlers out there. After winning the Brier in 2013, which is no easy feat, they lost to Edin in the world finals in Victoria. Then, when Olympic qualification came around in the fall, they went undefeated in the trials pre-qualification, and again in the actual trials. They did not lose a game to the best teams in Canada when the Olympics were on the line. I repeat, they went undefeated over multiple weekends of curling against Kevin Martin, Glen Howard, Jeff Stoughton, John Morris and every other amazing Canadian curler you can think of. The rest of the field may be a crap shoot, but Canada is a lock for men’s gold.

Podium

You know what, fuck it. I just talked myself out of every other team but Canada to medal, so why not be a homer? USA beats Sweden in a tie-breaker, loses to Canada and beats Great Britain for the bronze. While Canada once again beats Norway for gold.

What say you?

2 comments:

  1. Keeping with tradition in will rank them by handsomeness and hope it lines up with their skill:

    Gold - Great Britain
    Silver - Sweden
    Bronze - Norway

    As long as they make another calendar next year the actual hardware doesn't matter, right? :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gold - Norway (The power of the pants)
    Silver -Canada
    Bronze - Sweden

    ReplyDelete