With Olympic spot hanging in the balance, Canadian curlers pushed to the edge at men's worlds
Losses to Russia, Sweden have made things uncomfortably tense for Canadians
There was a time, not that long ago, when Canada arrived at the men's world curling championship and there were those games littered across the schedule you could basically pencil in a win for the Canadian curlers.
There were those "they should" win games — free spaces on the bingo card.
But those days are over. And it's been proven this week.
Canada is on the verge of missing the playoffs at the event, but more importantly, missing a prime opportunity to qualify for the 2022 Olympics.
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Brendan Bottcher and his team out of Edmonton have been the mark of consistency for years. They've been one of the best teams in the world. To make it to four consecutive Brier finals, finally breaking through with a title this year, is no small feat.
But an international event with the weight of the maple leaf pressing down is a different beast entirely. And Bottcher and company are teetering on the edge.
With a 7-4 record and two games left in the round robin, Canada finds itself in a must-win situation Thursday night (9 p.m. ET) against Norway, and then in its last game against Germany on Friday. The top six teams in the round robin advance to the playoffs and qualify for Beijing.
WATCH | Russia collects 1st win ever against Canada at worlds:
Nothing is easy
It looked like Canada would easily clinch a spot. But then Wednesday happened.
Canada lost to the Russian Curling Federation for the first time at the event. Just a day earlier they lost to Korea for the first time as well.
And then in a stunning collapse Wednesday night, Canada was outscored 7-1 in the last three ends against Sweden to lose 9-7.
It's gotten uncomfortably tense now.
The rest of the world has been gaining on Canada for years. The rhetoric the past decade was that international teams were gaining on Canada. They're on the same level as Canada now and the pressure has hit a different levels.
Since the 2018 Olympics, when the Canadians failed to podium for the first time in the history of the Games, there hasn't been a lot of gold to talk about.
For as dire as the situation has gotten, this is not a time to panic for the Canadians. Bottcher is known for his steely resolve and calm demeanour. He showed it again last night in the post-game interview, his voice steady and his tone relatively optimistic.
"We really need to compartmentalize today. We actually played quite a few really good ends of curling as a team," Bottcher told reporters. "We made a lot of really good shots. When we get back on the ice tomorrow [Thursday] it's got to be a brand new game"
We'll learn a lot about the character of this team in the coming days. And past history shows they'll meet the moment.
There's no question it's been a wild and somewhat wacky bonspiel to this point. Consider where Switzerland, reigning bronze medallist at the Olympics and a formidable opponent, sits. The Swiss are at five losses heading into the last two days of the round robin. Nobody could have predicted that.
It's almost unfathomable to consider either Canada or Switzerland having to compete in a last-chance Olympic qualifier but here we are.
WATCH | Canada collapses against Sweden:
Bottcher team resilient
Bottcher's team knows how to be resilient having lost three consecutive Brier finals, only to rise from the granite ashes this year to win the national championship. The rink is going to have to dig deeper than even before to string together what could become a memorable comeback if it's able to make it, not only into the playoffs, but a medal game.
But should Bottcher's team falter the rest of the way though and miss this chance at the Olympics, all is not lost for Canada.
A last-chance qualifier has been scheduled for this upcoming December, with exact dates and a location yet to be announced. There will be anywhere from nine to 11 teams competing and will include either three or four spots, depending on where host China finishes the rest of the way at the men's world championship.
The Canadian Olympic curling trials are scheduled for late-November in Saskatoon to determine what team would potentially represent Canada at the Games. But who that team would be could get messy.
It's something Canadian curlers and Canadian curling fans don't even want to have to consider.
It's pretty simple to avoid. Just win the rest of the way.