An exciting new season of curling is upon us with the debut of the PointsBet Invitational.
Sixteen of the best men’s and women’s rinks are each set to battle it out for a purse of $350,000 in a March Madness-style single elimination tournament taking place in Fredericton, N.B., from Sept. 21-25.
Each field will include the top 12 Canadian teams on the World Curling Tour, the reigning Canadian junior champions, the reigning Canadian club champions, host committee-selected teams and finally a pair of fan-voted entries.
Teams heading to Fredericton will receive $5,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs and will earn more cash after each win with the last men’s and women’s rinks standing earning a total of $50,000.
The PointsBet Invitational will be the first major event for many of the new teams that were formed this off-season at the conclusion of the Olympic quadrennial.
Action from Willie O'Ree Place gets underway Wednesday afternoon at 1pm ET/10am PT on TSN1 and streaming on TSN.ca or the TSN App. Check out the full broadcast schedule, HERE.
With so many new teams and storylines, it’s going to be interesting to see how everything shakes down in the Season of Champions opener.
Let’s take a close look at the women’s bracket and opening round matchups in the Sweep 16.
No. 1 Team Kerri Einarson (MB) vs. No. 16 Team Tracy Larocque (NO)
Skip: Kerri Einarson Third: Val Sweeting Second: Shannon Birchard Lead: Briane Harris
Skip: Tracy Larocque Third: Samantha Morris Second: Corie Adamson Lead: Abby Burgess
Breakdown: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Team Kerri Einarson, otherwise known as the three-time defending Canadian champions, were one of the few top rinks that decided to remain together this summer. Thunder Bay’s Team Tracy Larocque got the invite to Fredericton after capturing the Canadian club championship in December. This will be Team Einarson’s first event of the season, so there might be some rust to shake off, but expect them to advance to the Elite 8 at the very least.
No. 8 Team Kelsey Rocque (AB) vs. No. 9 Team Christina Black (NS)
Skip: Kelsey Rocque Third: Danielle Schmiemann Second: Dana Ferguson Lead: Rachel Brown
Skip: Christine Black Third: Jennifer Baxter Second: Karlee Everist Lead: Shelley Barker
Breakdown: Like the seedings suggest, the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup should be one of the most highly contested games in the opening round. Both sides had solid campaigns in 2021-22 with Team Kelsey Rocque qualifying for the Tim Hortons Curling Trials, finishing with a 3-5 record, and Team Christina Black making the playoffs at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for Nova Scotia. Will Rocque and Black take another step forward this season? Their clash in the Sweep 16 will be a good early test. Winner plays the winner of Einarson vs. Larocque.
No. 5 Team Jennifer Jones (MB) vs. No. 12 Team Andrea Kelly (NB)
Skip: Jennifer Jones Third: Karlee Burgess Second: Mackenzie Zacharias Lead/Alternate: Emily Zacharias/Lauren Lenentine
Skip: Andrea Kelly Third: Sylvie Quillian Second: Jill Brothers Lead: Kaitlin Forward
Breakdown: This one could be a lot of fun. A curling legend who is now skipping a new rink of prodigies taking on the home province skip after making a historic run at last year’s Scotties. On second thought, this one will be a lot of fun! Jones’ rink, which now sees former skip Mackenzie Zacharias at second, has already had some promising early results, including an 8-0 run at the Saville Shoot-Out in Edmonton. On the other side, Andrea Kelly and company will play their first event with new teammate Jill Brothers. Jones has the advantage when it comes to titles in this matchup, but don’t be surprised to see the fellow Scotties veteran in Kelly advancing to the next round with an upset special.
No. 4 Team Chelsea Carey (MB) vs. No. 13 Team Selena Sturmay (AB)
Skip: Chelsea Carey Third: Jolene Campbell Second: Liz Fyfe Lead: Rachel Erickson
Skip: Selena Sturmay Third: Kira Brunton Second: Kate Goodhelpsen Lead: Calissa Daly
Breakdown: Two-time Scotties Chelsea Carey, who returns to Manitoba this season with two new players, will take on an up-and-coming skip from Alberta in the Sweep 16. Selena Sturmay, 24, won the 2019 Canadian junior curling championship – followed by silver at world juniors – and is now looking to make some noise in the women’s game. Her team has already made one final this season and should give the veteran Carey a good game in the opening draw. The winner here will battle the winner of Jones vs. Kelly in the Elite 8.
No. 6 Team Casey Scheidegger (AB) vs. No. 11 Team Kerry Galusha (NT)
Skip: Kristie Moore Third: Kate Hogan Second: Jessie Haughian Lead: Taylor McDonald
Skip: Kerry Galusha (Lead stones) Third: Jo-Anne Rizzo (Fourth stones) Second: Sarah Kolton (Third stones) Lead: Margot Flemming (Second stones)
Breakdown: Casey Scheidegger sports a new foursome this season, but the 34-year-old native of Red Deer will have a replacement at the PointsBet Invitational with 2010 Olympic silver medalist Kristie Moore sparing in her place. On the other side of the sheet will be Kerry Galusha and her crew from the North, who are coming off a season in which they earned Northwest Territories a playoff spot at the Scotties for the first time since 1983. Like last season, Galusha will call the game, but throw lead stones. This matchup is another tossup in the Sweep 16.
No. 3 Team Rachel Homan (ON) vs. No. 14 Team Suzanne Birt (PEI)
Skip: Tracy Fleury (Third stones) Third: Rachel Homan (Fourth stones) Second: Emma Miskew Lead: Sarah Wilkes
Skip: Suzanne Birt Third: Colleen Jones Second: Meaghan Hughes Lead: Michelle McQuaid
Breakdown: This Sweep 16 clash features a highly anticipated new lineup taking on an East Coast rink who are bringing along a legend that will surely generate plenty of nostalgia for curling fans. The PointsBet Invitational will be the first time many will get to see Rachel Homan and Tracy Fleury playing together after an off-season blockbuster that got plenty of attention. Team Homan won their first seven games at the Saville Shoot-Out earlier this month, the first event of their season, before losing to Team Jennifer Jones in the final.
However, Team Suzanne Birt and their new spare might get the most attention going into this game. Ahead of Curling Canada’s fan vote, Birt teased fans with the promise of Colleen Jones, a six-time Tournament of Hearts champion, joining the group in Fredericton to fill-in for regular vice Marie Christianson.
It worked to perfection as Team Birt beat out three other rinks in the fan vote to get the last spot in the field. Will Jones put on a show against Homan and company? Winner plays the winner of Scheidegger vs. Galusha in the Elite 8.
No. 7 Team Hollie Duncan (ON) vs. No. 10 Team Penny Barker (SK)
Skip: Hollie Duncan Third: Julie Tippin Second: Rachelle Strybosch Lead: Tess Bobbie
Skip: Penny Barker Third: Christie Gamble Second: Jenna Enge Lead: Danielle Sicinski
Breakdown: The No. 7 vs. No. 10 pits the evenly matched Team Hollie Duncan of Ontario taking on Team Penny Barker of Saskatchewan. Both sides missed the playoffs at last year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, posting identical 4-4 records in round robin play. Additionally, both skips are bringing back the same lineups entering the 2022-23 season, however Julie Tippin will spare for third Megan Balsdon on Team Duncan at this event.
No. 2 Team Kaitlyn Lawes (MB) vs. No. 15 Team Emily Deschenes (NS)
Skip: Kaitlyn Lawes Third: Selena Njegovan Second: Jocelyn Peterman Lead: Kristin MacCuish
Skip: Emily Deschenes Third: Lauren Ferguson Second: Alison Umlah Lead: Cate Fitzgerald
Breakdown: For the first time since her junior days, Kaitlyn Lawes is skipping her own rink. The longtime third for Jennifer Jones has her own team this year and, on paper, seem to have the talent and experience to find major success over the next quadrennial. Team Lawes made it to the Oslo Cup final earlier this month in their first event and then won their first event at the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic in Winnipeg this past weekend. Lawes and Jocelyn Peterman have been teammates for the past four seasons while Selena Njegovan and Kristin MacCuish have played together for over a decade, so finding how to work together shouldn’t be an issue for this squad. They’ll be the heavy favourites over Team Emily Deschenes, the 2022 Canadian women’s junior champs, in the Sweep 16. The winner of this match plays the winner of Duncan vs. Barker in the Elite 8.