Posted at 12:19 pm on February 14, 2013
The Scotties Tournament of Hearts is upon us, and that old debate regarding a “Team Canada” has surfaced again. Many praise the automatic inclusion of the defending champion, while others are vehemently opposed to the tradition. What is it about that red and white jersey that has curlers all steamed?
Both the men’s and women’s national championships feature a field of 12 teams. But those 12 slots are filled differently. At the Brier (the men’s championship) each of the ten provinces get one spot, the Northwest Territories and Yukon share a spot, and Ontario gets a second spot. For the Scotties, instead of Ontario getting a second spot, the champion of the previous year’s event is automatically invited back as “Team Canada”.
The obvious benefit to this is marketing. Everyone loves to see a defending champion being chased by everyone else in the field. It makes for great TV to see the drama of a Team Canada trying to repeat as champion. Without a Team Canada, it would be possible that the defending champion could be knocked out during the provincial play downs, failing to reach the national championship again and killing any drama associated with a defending champion.
But some would argue that this scenario is exactly why Team Canada should be eliminated. If a team is unable to win in their own province, is it fair to have them playing on the nation’s largest stage? Multiple Brier champ Glenn Howard doesn’t think so.
“I personally feel you have to earn your way out of the province,” Howard told the Barrie Examiner back in 2009.
Not only is the removal of Team Canada fair to the other teams, but it may also be helpful to whoever would otherwise get the free ticket. Many defending champions have credited their provincial playdown run as a great opportunity to build momentum and stay sharp prior to the big event. When a team gets the free ticket, they sit on the sidelines during the playdowns and have the potential to get rusty why everyone else is honing their game. Granted, a team can use that time to throw rocks, but there is no amount of practice that can compare with a good competitive game. So while the Team Canada status would guarantee their presence at the Scotties, it may hinder their ability to defend their title.
There is also a strong case to keep the Team Canada tradition, and even extend it into the Brier. Kevin Martin has often been vocal about his fondness for the Team Canada idea and desire to see it implemented at the Brier. Martin, and the entire province of Alberta, is a perfect example of why a Team Canada is a good idea: it opens the door in tough provinces. Alberta is arguably one of the strongest curling regions in the world. Take the 2000s, for example. From 2001 to 2010, that decade saw the province of Alberta win the Brier seven times with three different teams (Kevin Martin, Kevin Koe, and Randy Ferbey). With so many potential champions living within the same borders, there is a good argument that sending only one Alberta representative is actually weakening the Brier field. By scratching the second Ontario team in favor for the returning champion, it allows the next-best team to come to the Brier and create a more competitive event.
The existence of a Northern Ontario team instead of a Team Canada also begs the question, “Why Ontario?” Sure they have the largest population of any Canadian province, but do they have the best curling teams? History would suggest otherwise. As mentioned before, in recent years, Alberta has been the strongest curling province. Why don’t they get the second team? However, if Alberta was given a second team now, whose to say that ten years down the road a different province may begin to produce a larger quantity of dominant teams. One solution that is very intriguing is holding a wild-card bonspiel, which will see all the runner-ups from each province’s playdown face off with each other to fight for a single wild-card seed at the Brier or Scotties. This seems to be a solution that satisfies all angles: the defending champion still has to earn their spot at the national championship, teams from strong provinces will have a second chance to qualify, and a new wild-card event will certainly create enough drama to satisfy the broadcasters. Imagine the hype that could be generated if a wild-card team made it all the way to the Brier finals! Vic Rauter would probably need therapy to deal with the excitement.
But for this year at least, the Scotties will have a Team Canada and it will consist of Heather Nedohin, Beth Iskiw, Jessica Mair, and Laine Peters.