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New curling playoff format draws mixed reaction at women's curling championship

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The new playoff format at the world women's curling championship has drawn mixed reaction from some prominent members of the sport's community.

The World Curling Federation made a change for this year's event at the North Bay Memorial Gardens after adding a 13th team to the field. The familiar four-team Page Playoff has been replaced with a six-team setup.

The top two finishers in the round-robin earn semifinal berths while the four remaining playoff teams face off in qualification games. Semifinal winners play for gold and semifinal losers meet for bronze.

Glenn Howard, a four-time Canadian and world champion, didn't mince words with his thoughts on the new format. 

"Ok folks I just can't stand back and not comment," Howard said Saturday on Twitter. "Does it make any sense that the USA (7-6) is playing Canada (12-0) in a semi? Not to me. There has to be a carrot for winning the RR. My god, even the page system is 100 times better. #horribleformat #makeitright #my2cents."

In the Page Playoff, the top team in round-robin play is rewarded with a berth in the 1-2 game. The winner goes straight to the final and the loser falls into a semifinal, with another crack at getting to play for gold.

The WCF, which added a third team from the Pacific-Asia region to the field this year, decided a six-team straight knockout format was best.

Canada's Jennifer Jones ran the table in round-robin play to take the first seed with a 12-0 record. Sweden was next at 10-2, followed by South Korea (8-4), Russia (7-5), the Czech Republic (6-6) and the United States (6-6).

American Jamie Sinclair split her round-robin games and beat South Korea in a qualification game to set up a semifinal showdown with Canada on Saturday night.

Boosting the number of playoff teams did create more meaningful games over the last two days of competition. But it also provided .500 teams with the chance to make it to the gold-medal game. 

Curling Canada consultant Nolan Thiessen, a three-time national champion, also weighed in on Twitter.

"Here's the thing folks. With all current formats we have to take into account all stakeholders," he said. "I'm an athlete and do understand there are better formats. But we have to weigh everything and compromise if we want the sport to have fans, broadcasters, sponsors, full buildings etc."

China also finished round-robin play at 6-6 but was the odd team out. 

Tiebreaker games have been abolished under the new format.

Instead, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head results. If that doesn't settle it, pre-game last shot draw distances are used.

"I'm never really a fan of being eliminated without a tiebreaker because it really then (could) come down to a skill contest," Jones said earlier in the competition. "I didn't like how the women's gold medal hockey game ended at the Olympics in a shootout. That reminds me of it so I don't like it."

China dropped its round-robin games to the Czechs and the Americans. Had it gone down to last-shot draw numbers, China would have advanced over the Czechs.

"Ultimately we want the best team in the championship to win, whoever that may be," Canadian national team coach Elaine Dagg-Jackson said earlier in the week. "This is to try to find the best team here and we'll see if this format will do that."

Howard, meanwhile, feels the top seed should get more of a reward.

"It's not enough," he said in another Twitter post. "To be completely honest 'any' team that goes through 'any' full field round robin with a clear cut better record than the rest should get the bye to the final. That team has proven to be the best all week. Hence the 'carrot'. #noworsethansecondplace."

The same six-team format will be used at the upcoming world men's curling championship in Las Vegas. 

Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., will represent Canada.


Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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