Canadians are accustomed to dominating curling. But when it comes to the newer, quirky, mixed doubles version of the game, the country is lagging behind the rest of the world.
"We're in catch-up mode," says Jeff Stoughton. "Up until now we haven't put a lot of emphasis on this and so that means other countries are better at it right now."
Curling Canada has hired Stoughton to change this. The Winnipeg native carries an impressive resumé, including three Brier titles and a pair of world championships.
His challenge now is to get Canada ready for mixed doubles' Olympic debut less than a year from now in South Korea. The new discipline was added to the program last year by the IOC.
"I think right now it's a bit of a quick hit to get ready for the Olympics, but we want our success to be long lasting," Stoughton says.
With that goal in mind, 32 teams, including Olympic gold medallists and world champions, are in Saskatoon this week competing at the 2017 Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship.
You can watch live action on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app, beginning with round-robin play Saturday at 8:30 a.m. ET and continuing through the championship final Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.
The winner of that game will represent Canada at the world championship in Lethbridge, Alta., later this month.
If you're not familiar with mixed doubles curling, don't worry, you're not alone.
Here's what you need to know:
The basics are relatively simple. Each team consists of only two players — one man, one woman. Each team throws five stones per end, with the player delivering the team's first stone of the end also delivering the team's final stone of the end. The game lasts eight ends. The scoring is the same as in regular curling.
Then it gets a little more complicated.
The major difference between regular curling and mixed doubles is the positioning of two stones — one per team — before the beginning of each end. These rocks can end up counting for points if they make their way into the house.
The team with the "hammer" (last rock) chooses where to place these two stones. If that team elects to place its stone in the back of the 4-foot circle of the house and the opposing team's stone as the centre guard, then the opposing team delivers the first stone of the end. If it opts for the reverse, then it delivers the first stone of the end.
A modified version of the free guard zone is also in effect: no stone in play, including the "positioned" stones, can be taken out prior to the delivery of the fourth stone of each end.
The power play
Canadians know all about a power play in hockey, but here's how it works in mixed doubles curling:
The power play can be used once per game by each team when it has the decision on the placement of the "positioned" stones (though it's not allowed if the game goes to an extra end).
When the power play is invoked, the in-house stone (which, remember, belongs to the team with last stone in that end) is placed with its back edge touching the tee line, with half of the stone resting in the 8-foot circle and half in the 12-foot. The guard stone is positioned to the side of the sheet so it protects the in-house stone.
Canada still hasn't secured a spot at the 2018 Olympics in mixed doubles. That's determined by cumulative points won in previous world events.
In order for Canada to book a ticket to the Games in Pyeongchang, the team representing the country at the world championship in Lethbridge, Alta., later this month must finish in the top eight.
But that team doesn't get an automatic ticket to South Korea. Canada's Olympic representative will be decided at the country's mixed doubles trials early next year, at a location still to be determined.
As for Olympic medal potential? It's still early, but Stoughton says "I like our chances."
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