Canada's mixed doubles curling pairings are set
Jeff Stoughton plays matchmaker for Olympic qualifier
He wouldn't quite describe it this way, but you might say Jeff Stoughton has become a curling Cupid.
As part of his duties in leading Canada's mixed doubles program into the Winter Olympics, the three-time Brier and two-time world champion has been busy facilitating some last-minute match making.
The tournament to determine which pairing will represent Canada when this quirky version of curling makes its Olympic debut in South Korea in February begins on Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man. (Every draw will be live streamed on CBCSports.ca.)
Stoughton confirmed to CBC Sports that the following 18 teams will compete. They'll be split into two pools of nine, with eight teams advancing to a modified double-knockout playoff.
- Jennifer Jones & Mark Nichols
- Val Sweeting & Brad Gushue
- Dawn McEwen & Mike McEwen
- Kaitlyn Lawes & John Morris
- Chelsea Carey & Colin Hodgson
- Jill Officer & Reid Carruthers
- Sherry Middaugh & John Epping
- Dana Ferguson & Brendan Bottcher
- Shannon Birchard & Jason Gunnlaugson
- Jocelyn Peterman & Brett Gallant
- Kalynn Park & Charley Thomas
- Laura Crocker & Geoff Walker
- Nancy Martin & Catlin Schneider
- Marliese Kasner & Dustin Kalthoff
- Kim Tuck & Wayne Tuck
- Emilie Desjardins & Robert Desjardins
- Nicole Westlund Stewart & Tyler Stewart
- Sherry Just & Tyrel Griffith
"It's been a little bit of hit and a little bit of miss along the way, trying to figure out what the best process would be," Stoughton says of organizing the Olympic qualifier. "We went with more teams in the trials [rather] than less to have more opportunity. I think it's shaping up to be a darn good event."
It's been a mad two-year dash for Stoughton since mixed doubles was added to the Olympic program. While many pairings were already in place, last week's Canadian curling trials resulted in some reshuffling.
Curling Canada had ruled that players would not be eligible to compete in both a traditional four-person event and mixed doubles at the Olympics. So when Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe led their rinks to victory at the trials, it left some of the curlers who had planned to pair up with members of those teams in mixed doubles scrambling to find new partners.
Jennifer Jones, for example, had been playing with her husband, Brent Laing, who is part of Team Koe.
"I had a few consults with some of those players to give them some ideas, phone numbers, emails," Stoughton says. "I tried my best to help them out in what would be a great match."
But, he warns, "Be careful about the cupid part. It's like you're the matchmaker, but don't take that out of context."
Olympic champs join forces
Jones, the 2014 women's gold medallist, will now be playing with Mark Nichols as both players try to return to the Olympics. Nichols, who is Brad Gushue's third, was part of the team that won gold at the 2006 Games in Italy.
John Morris also had to find someone new after Homan, his usual playing partner, booked her ticket to Pyeongchang.
Another strong duo was Reid Carruthers and Joanne Courtney. They won the Canadian mixed doubles title last season and went on to capture silver at the world championships, qualifying an Olympic spot for Canada in the process. But they've been torn apart too because Courtney is the second on Homan's team. Carruthers will now play with Team Jones second Jill Officer.
Stoughton isn't fazed by the changes.
"It's still curling," he says. "The replacement players are wonderful and I don't think the field is impacted in any way.
"Our expectations are that we're going to be playing for a medal [at the Olympics]."