2016-17 Winter Preview: Curling, hockey conversations heat up ahead of Olympics
We are less than a year and a half to the start of PyeongChang 2018.
That makes the winter sport season about to begin the last full one before the Olympic season is upon us – which means Olympic qualification events and test events are all on the calendar. So as maple leaves change colour across the country, let’s check out some of the athletes who will be wearing the maple leaf this winter as they set their sights on South Korea.
To get us going, a couple of major medal potential team sports for Canada: curling and ice hockey.
Who to Watch
Canada’s depth in curling is unparalleled. It also makes the battle to be Team Canada at the Olympic Games extremely fierce. The national trials, known as the Roar of the Rings, won’t be held until December 2017, but the season ahead will decide who gets to compete to be the Olympic representatives. Whichever teams come out victorious will be tasked with continuing Canada’s medal streak that dates back to curling’s return to the Olympic program at Nagano 1998.
Already qualified for the Roar of the Rings based on results from last season are rinks skipped by two-time world champion Kevin Koe, two-time world medallist Rachel Homan and Sochi 2014 gold medallist Jennifer Jones. Among the notables hoping to get in are the current leaders of the Canadian Team Ranking System, 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue and Allison Flaxey, whose husband Caleb won gold with Brad Jacobs in Sochi. But there is a long season ahead, filled with World Curling Tour events as well as the provincial, national, and world championships, with lots of ranking points up for grabs.
PyeongChang 2018 will also include the Olympic debut of mixed doubles, which gives accomplished curlers who miss out on qualifying for the team tournaments a second chance to fulfill their Olympic dreams. Canada put a focus on the discipline by naming two-time world champion Jeff Stoughton as the program manager for mixed doubles development last year. A recent bonspiel in Manitoba was won by Homan and John Morris, who won gold at Vancouver 2010 as the third for Kevin Martin. Also competing were Jones and husband Brent Laing. It’ll be interesting to see what other partnership pop up as the season goes along. Eighteen Canadian duos will participate in the Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Trials in January 2018.
The World Curling Federation will confirm which countries will go for gold at PyeongChang 2018 with the publication of the Olympic Qualification Ranking Lists in May 2017.
What to Watch
Canada Cup – November 30-December 4, 2016 – Brandon, Manitoba
– The winners of each of the men’s and women’s tournaments will qualify for the Roar of the Rings.
Tournament of Hearts – February 18-26, 2017 – St. Catharines, Ontario
Brier – March 4-12, 2017 – St. John’s, Newfoundland
– The winners of the women’s and men’s national championships will qualify for the Roar of the Rings, provided they win a medal at the 2017 World Championships.
World Men’s Curling Championship – April 1-9, 2017 – Edmonton, Alberta
World Women’s Curling Championship – March 18-26, 2017 – Beijing, China
Mixed Doubles Curling Championship – April 5-9, 2017 – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
– The top three finishers will all qualify for the Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Trials.
World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship – April 22-29, 2017 – Lethbridge, Alberta
Who to Watch
We know that Canada will compete in both the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments at PyeongChang 2018, securing their qualification after the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Championships, respectively.
Now it’s a matter of deciding who will be on the ice.
The biggest issue to sort out for the men’s team is which players would be eligible to compete. There is no agreement yet between the IIHF, IOC, and NHL that would allow for the pro league to shut down its season during the Games to have a sixth straight best-on-best Olympic tournament. Until a final decision is made one way or the other, we’re still in wait and see mode as to whether we’ll see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Carey Price skate across the Olympic rings. That trio just helped Canada win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The women’s tournament is once again expected to come down to Canada and the United States for the gold medal. After Canada won the gold medal in dramatic fashion at Sochi 2014 (remember that goal post save and overtime winner?), the United States claimed the last two world titles, including a 1-0 overtime victory in Kamloops in April. That edition of Team Canada was captained by Marie-Philip Poulin, the hero of the last two Olympic triumphs. Hayley Wickenheiser returned to the squad at age 37 while 20-year-old Emily Clark was the youngest on the team that continues to develop talent. The world championship will be the most important tournament on the calendar again this season, with Canada hoping to negate the Americans’ home ice advantage.
What to Watch
IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship – May 5-21, 2017 – Cologne, Germany and Paris, France
IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships – March 31-April 7 – Plymouth, Michigan