Up for grabs: Canada no longer a lock at men's curling worlds
Seven teams still fighting for 6 playoff spots on final day of round robin
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Rarely in the 60 years of curling at the men's world championship have there been monumental surprises or plot twists — quite the opposite.
Mainly, the predictability of the outcome has sapped any suspense or drama.
The usual powerhouse curling countries have mostly risen to the top. Canada has won the title 36 out of 59 times while earning silver or bronze on another 13 occasions.
The Canadians have failed to reach the podium only 10 times.
Throughout, there has been a mark of consistency for Canada. In the first ten years of the event, from 1959 to 1968, Canada won the title eight times. The next decade, from 1969 to 1978, was Canada's worst stretch, with only four titles. But in every decade since, the Canadians have won the title six or seven times.
In this past 10 years, Canada has claimed men's curling supremacy five times. Now, it's up to Kevin Koe's Calgary rink to put another notch on the Canadian curling belt.
Part of the usual narrative at this international bonspiel has also involved Sweden and Scotland being near the top. They're the next two closest countries to Canada in terms of gold medals — and they're not all that close.
Sweden sits second with eight titles; Scotland is third with five. In fact, only five countries outside of Canada have ever won a world men's curling title. The United States and Norway have won it four times and Switzerland three times.
Twenty-three nations have played in the men's world curling championship over its 59 years — outside of the six countries previously mentioned, the others have usually just been happy to attend the event.
But the landscape has shifted and this year's championship is a perfect example of how other countries are starting to find their footing on the pebbled ice.
Playoff picture out of focus
With just a couple of games remaining for each team, it's anyone's guess what six countries are going to advance into the playoff round. The top two teams get an automatic berth into the semifinals while the next four play a quarter-final game to stay alive.
Usually at this point of the bonspiel the front-runners have emerged. Not this year.
Sweden is the only team with just one loss. Switzerland has two losses. Behind those two teams are Canada, Japan, Italy and the United States sitting with three losses. Scotland has suffered four losses but remains alive for the playoffs with the crucial final games to be played.
WATCH | Scotland sweeps away Canada:
Only six of the seven remaining teams can advance. That's going to leave one very competitive team on the outside looking in and wondering what might have been.
It's already been a historic tournament for two countries. Japan is advancing to the playoffs after its best start to a men's world curling championship. Japan's best-ever finish came three years ago, when it lost the bronze-medal game to the United States and ended up fourth.
Italy is also making some history. It's already ensured its best-ever record at a men's world curling championship by reaching seven wins. And it's also ensured its best-ever finish, surpassing eighth-place finishes from 1996 and 2016.
WATCH | Koe lands ridiculous in-off to beat U.S.:
The Americans, skipped by John Shuster, are the defending Olympic champions. They went on an improbable run one year ago in Pyeongchang to win the country's first-ever curling gold. Their historic triumph included beating Canada for the first — and second — times ever at the Olympics. The Americans are right back in the thick of it in Lethbridge.
There's no question Canada is still the curling powerhouse. But for years, people have been saying the rest of the world is catching up. That's not the case anymore. The world has not only caught up — they're winning with much more regularity than what many Canadian curling fans would like.
And so, the curling script is far less predictable than in the past. That only means good things for a sport that continues to grow and evolve each passing year.