How would Canada’s Scotties and Brier fields look using other countries’ formats?

Curling has evolved rapidly as a result of its place in the Winter Olympic Games since 1998. One of the hot-button topics surrounding this is the place of Canada’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Brier in the sport as it continues to move forward.

The unique provincial format of the Scotties and Brier is a big part of what makes compelling. However, the debate as to whether this format is hindering Canada’s teams on the world level has grown.

What would the Scotties and Brier look like if it was just another national championship? How different would the 2020 fields have been if Canada used formats similar to other curling nations? Let’s take a look.

The caveat here is obvious. The lineup of many of these teams would look very different if Canada no longer required teams to abide by residency and birthright rules. But for now, we are going to take the square peg of these 2019-20 times and shove them through the round hole of these other qualification formats.

It’s a pandemic and we need content. At least give me that.

United States Curling Association

The USCA’s high performance program has evolved a lot over the last decade. (Shameless plug! Check out our podcast on John Shuster’s road to Olympic gold for a detailed history!) Currently, a certain number of teams are funded each year and play extensively on the World Curling Tour.

That’s puts them at a distinct advantage when it comes to qualifying for the US Curling National Championships. For 2019-20, the top 5 men and top 4 women in Year to Date points on the WCT on Dec. 1 earn automatic qualification to nationals. They are joined by 4 men’s and 3 women’s teams from an open Challenge Round and one junior team on each side to round out the field.

The junior team is added to give these up-and-coming teams the valuable experience of playing on championship ice in a championship environment. However, it is rarely the junior national champion that goes because nationals are typically held at the same time as the World Junior Curling Championships.

Qualifier (Dec. 1) Brier Scotties
YTD 1 Epping Fleury
YTD 2 Jacobs Einarson
YTD 3 Gushue Homan
YTD 4 Bottcher J. Jones
YTD 5 K. Koe Rocque
Junior Kleiter Stevens
Qualifier TBD TBD
Qualifier TBD TBD
Qualifier TBD TBD
Qualifier TBD TBD

I threw in two of the top Canadian junior teams into this field because the two Canadian junior champions would be busy at worlds. The qualification tournament for the Scotties and Brier would likely look similar to the Road to the Roar that is held in the lead up to the Canadian Olympic trials, the Roar of the Rings.

Who would these teams be? Would teams like Krista McCarville and Jamie Murphy be able to make it through even though they aren’t able to get out on tour as much? Or would WCT teams just on the outside looking in, like Scott McDonald and defending Scotties champion Chelsea Carey, be able to play their way into the main field?

Swiss Curling Association

The Swiss go almost entirely off Order of Merit. For their men’s tournament, the top 5 in Order of Merit as of Jan. 27 qualify directly to the championship. The last three qualifiers come from a 5-team super league playoff round.

For our purposes here, the top 5 directly qualify for the Scotties and Brier and the next 5 head to that qualification tournament.

Qualifier (As of Jan. 27) Brier Scotties
OOM 1 Jacobs Fleury
OOM 2 Epping Einarson
OOM 3 Gushue J. Jones
OOM 4 McEwen Homan
OOM 5 Bottcher Carey
Qualifier K. Koe Rocque
Qualifier Gunnlaugson Walker
Qualifier Dunstone Brown
Qualifier Howard Birt
Qualifier Calvert Peterson

This one is probably the most like the Canada Cup. Points are all that matters and that’s why teams like Braden Calvert and Beth Peterson are on this list. One thing about using this particular qualification format is the Jan. 27 date landed in the middle of Canada’s provincial play-down season so some teams have points from their play-downs and others don’t.

Japan Curling Association

Japan’s qualification process underwent a change this year. Previously, last year’s champion and runner-up received automatic bids, the Hokkaido regional championship had three bids available and the Tohoku, Chubu, Kanto and Nishinippon regions all sent their champion.

Starting with the 2020 Japanese Curling Championship, last year’s champion and runner-up still get bids, but now the five regions are all guaranteed one representative and those seven teams are joined by a WCT team and a wild card team. The top team in Order of Merit on Oct. 31 gets a spot and the runners up from the five regionals meet in a single-elimination tournament the day before the main event begins to determine the wild card representative.

I divided Canada into five regions for this little experiment. Of course, these could be juggled. You could lump Quebec in with Atlantic Canada to create the curling equivalent of the QMJHL and have Ontario and Northern Ontario be its own region. That would probably make a lot of GTA curlers happy and pretty much no one else.

Qualifier Brier Scotties
Last Year’s Champion K. Koe Carey
Last Year’s Runner-Up Bottcher Homan
Top OOM Team (Oct. 31) Epping Fleury
Region 1 (Atlantic) Gushue Birt
Region 2 (ON/QC) Jacobs McCarville
Region 3 (MB/SK) Dunstone Einarson
Region 4 (AB/BC) Cotter Walker
Region 5 (Territories) J. Koe Galusha
Wild Card 1 (Atlantic) Grattan Arseneault
Wild Card 2 (ON/QC) Howard Murphy
Wild Card 3 (MB/SK) Gunnlaugson J. Jones
Wild Card 4 (AB/BC) Sturmay Rocque
Wild Card 5 (Territories) Scoffin Eddy

This is a little bit more in line with what Canada has been doing with its mixed doubles championship. It’s a combination of provincial representation and rewarding teams for getting on tour and chasing points.

Which the future look like for the Scotties and Brier?

There’s been a lot of talk, particularly on the Inside Curling podcast with Kevin Martin and Warren Hansen, about how change is inevitable for the Scotties and Brier. The provincial format is being viewed as archaic and and unnecessary restriction on how top-level Canadian curling teams are formed.

But I love the thing. I love seeing the Quebec teams speak French during their games. I love seeing the Atlantic teams that only get on TV one week a year. I love the jackets. And all of this despite only starting the game in 2010. I’m a relative newcomer to this sport and I can see why so many Canadians are partial to this format.

Even if it doesn’t produce the strongest possible field for a national championship, I don’t think it hinders the best teams Canada has to offer from winning. The question becomes if Canada can continue to be the best curling nation in the world while making its teams adhere to provincial lineups.

My personal guess is we’ll eventually see something that both allows top-level curling teams to be national while also allowing access to the Scotties and Brier field through provincial play-downs.

What do you think? Do the Scotties and Brier need to evolve? Or is this much ado about nothing?