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More playoff teams at world curling championships liked by some, not others

LAS VEGAS — A more generous playoff format at the men's world curling championship is getting mixed reviews from skips.

The World Curling Federation added a 13th country to the field this year and increased the number of playoff teams from four to six.

Also, after a dozen years using the Page playoff, the WCF reverted back to two semifinals and added a quarterfinal round in 2018.

Canada's Brad Gushue, Scotland's Bruce Mouat, Sweden's Niklas Edin, and Norway's Steffen Walstad had four of the six playoff berths locked down heading into the final day of round-robin play at the Orleans Arena. 

Switzerland, Russia, South Korea and the United States were still in contention for the fifth and sixth playoff spots entering Friday's games.

The top two seeds get byes to Saturday's semifinals, while teams three to six square off in quarterfinals earlier in the day. The medal games are Sunday.

Gushue went undefeated to win last year's world title in Edmonton. He's not in favour of a six-team playoff.

"Six teams out of 13 is too many," Gushue said. "It's really rewarding mediocrity.

"Get into the playoffs with a .500 record and have two of the best days of your life and you're a world champion."

Two teams with 6-6 records reached the playoffs at the women's world curling championship last month in North Bay, Ont. Canada's Jennifer Jones went undefeated en route to gold.

Edin, who dropped a 4-2 decision to Gushue in last year's men's final, said the larger field and six-team playoff structure makes for a bloated event.

"I don't like it personally," the Swedish skip said. "I think it's too many teams, too many games in the round robin, too many teams in the playoffs."

After losing three in a row during the round robin, Norway's Steffen Walstad felt in favour of the six-team playoff.

"Right now, I'm happy for it because I know we need those extra two spots," Walstad said Thursday.

Switzerland's Mark Pfister liked getting to the last day of the preliminary round still in contention for a world title.

"It's a little bit more room for us because the first two places are Canada and Sweden mostly," Pfister said. "We have two more places. Now chances are a little bit better. Much better."

Scotland's Mouat doesn't think six playoff teams are too many.   

"Coming into the competition, I was excited because there were six teams that were going to get into the playoffs instead of just the four," the 23-year-old said.

When the men's and women's world championships were split into two separate events in 2005, the Page playoff replaced two semifinals.

In the Page, the top two teams meet in a playoff with the winner advancing directly to the final. The loser gets a second chance at reaching the final by facing either the third or fourth seed in a single semifinal.

Canada's men's and women's championships have used the Page since 1995.

At the worlds, tiebreaker games will no longer be played if teams are tied for the final playoff berth.

Ties will be broken by head-to-head results. If teams are still deadlocked, pre-game draw to the button distances will be used.

Walstad feels a pair of semifinals to determine who plays for gold is more fan-friendly as opposed to a one-two playoff game where neither team is eliminated.

"Curling has been kind of unique with the Page playoff," the Norwegian skip said. "If I'm playing well, I want the Page playoff. But I think as a spectator, I think the semifinal is good."

"I think it's what makes other sports more exciting. The ones I watch and don't play myself."

Mouat won a world junior championship two years ago when four of the 10 teams made a Page playoff.

"I was always kind of a fan of the Page system," he said. "I thought if you do well in the round robin, you kind of deserve something."

Teams ranked third and fourth in the preliminary round could potentially be eliminated from medal contention in the quarterfinals.

That's what competition is all about, according to Italian skip Joel Retornaz.

"If you're good, you have to win all games, even some extra playoffs," Retornaz said. "If you're good and better than other teams, you have to show that on the ice."

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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