It may sound unusual, but the favourite to win this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts
is not defending champion Amber Holland and her rink from Kronau, Sask.
To say Holland's team has struggled this year as the reigning champion would be an understatement. They currently sit 83rd on the World Curling Tour money list, with $900 in winnings in five events. I think it's safe to say they're hoping to turn things around at the Scotties in Red Deer, Alta.
Wearing the red and white Team Canada jackets often gives opponents a little extra motivation to beat you, but having said this, many expected more for the start of the season from Team Canada. The fact that this team does not typically play as much as many of the top competitive teams in the country, however, leads me to believe that they still have plenty in the tank, and will be as prepared as anyone coming into the week.
The rest of the field for the Scotties features many familiar names, and should provide us with many entertaining games. Jennifer Jones returns after losing last year's championship game, and appears to be in her element. She reeled of five consecutive elimination games to win the Manitoba title
, which seems to be her favourite script for any curling event. With their backs against the wall, no team in Canada - men or women - comes through in the clutch more than this team. They are the favourites to put the maple leaf back on their jackets.
Returning past champions include Kelly Scott and her B.C. foursome, as well as Heather Nedohin from Alberta, who won the title as the third for Cathy Borst back in 1998.
Scott, a two-time champion, has been one of my top picks the last couple of years, but struggled as she failed to make the playoffs. Nedohin has not played in the Scotties in a number of years, and is looking to make a big splash as the event is played in her home province.
As seems to be the case in many of the Scotties events, there are a number of teams returning who have made great runs in the past. Heather Smith-Dacey finished third last year and is hoping to improve on that result this time around. Marie-France Larouche lost the final to Colleen Jones the last time the event was played in Red Deer back in 2004 - perhaps this building will provide some good karma for her.
Tracy Horgan upset Rachel Homan in the Ontario final to capture her first provincial title, and will be in tough against this field. Michelle Englot from Saskatchewan, Andrea Kelly from New Brunswick, Kim Dolan from Prince Edward Island, Kerry Galusha from the Territories and Heather Strong from Newfoundland and Labrador are all back and have made runs to the playoffs in past Scotties. These teams are all capable of winning games, and they could be a factor. But they need to get hot and play well to contend.
I'm looking forward to a great week of curling in Red Deer. Here are my predictions:Champion:
Manitoba (Jennifer Jones): Too strong, and highly focusedRunner-up:
Alberta (Heather Nedohin): Home team will play wellThird Place:
Quebec (Marie-France Larouche): Loved Red Deer first time aroundFourth Place:
British Columbia (Kelly Scott): Experience will helpClose to playoffs:
Team Canada (Amber Holland), Saskatchewan (Michelle Englot), New Brunswick (Andrea Kelly), Nova Scotia (Heather Smith-Dacey), Newfoundland & Labrador (Heather Strong)In tough:
Ontario (Tracy Horgan), Territories (Kerry Galusha), Prince Edward Island (Kim Dolan)
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