Eight Ends: Edin & Jones shine at 25th Players’ Championship

Rob Faulds, Joan McCusker and Kevin Martin break down GSOC's Players Championship, where Niklas Edin's rink was victorious on the men's side, and Jennifer Jones on the women's.

TORONTO — The unreal Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season continues for Niklas Edin.

The Swedish skip picked up his third title of 2016-17 at the historic 25th running of the WestJet Players’ Championship. Edin stole points in the final two ends to beat Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen 5-3 in Sunday’s final at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Even Edin himself couldn’t believe the success his club has had considering he, third Oskar Eriksson, second Rasmus Wrana and lead Christoffer Sundgren entered the season with zero titles in the series to their names. In the rookie Wrana’s case, he hadn’t even played in the series previously and won in his debut at the WFG Masters, which was also the first Pinty’s GSOC title win for a non-Canadian men’s team.

Edin joined Kevin Martin, Brad Gushue and Rachel Homan as skips who have won three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles in a single season.

Team Edin was a bit slow out of the gate with a 1-2 start, possibly tired after settling for silver at the world championship just a couple days prior. They found their second wind though and performed like the Team Edin we’ve seen all season winning five straight games en route to the title.

Edin earned $30,000 for winning the WestJet Players’ Championship and $75,000 for the Rogers Grand Slam Cup to cash in a cool $105,000 on the day.

Edin dominated the Rogers Grand Slam Cup standings taking the season championship with a total of 66 points and a 16-point lead over second-place finisher Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who received a $40,000 bonus.

The three titles certainly helped, but Edin also reached the semifinals at the Boost National and was runner-up to Gushue of St. John’s at the Meridian Canadian Open. The Princess Auto Elite 10 was the only one of the six events Edin didn’t make it to the final four. Now that’s an impressive streak of consistency.

Only Gushue could have swooped in and taken the Rogers Grand Slam Cup away from him entering Sunday, however, Edin controlled his own destiny. Gushue needed Edin to lose to Scotland’s Kyle Smith in the semifinals, win his own match over McEwen and defeat Smith for the title to score enough points. The race was over once Edin toppled Smith 6-2 and McEwen ousted Gushue 5-4 anyway. Gushue last year’s Rogers Grand Slam Cup and Players’ Championship victor, finished in third place with 48 points ($25,000 bonus).

Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers was rink-side for the men’s final as he had vested interest in the result. He sat in fourth place in the Rogers Grand Slam Cup (and sat on the edge of his seat) as McEwen could have bumped him out with a WestJet Players’ Championship win. Carruthers held on to claim a $10,000 bonus.

There’s still one more Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event to go before the series signs off for the season with the Humpty’s Champions Cup running April 25-30 at WinSport Arena in Calgary.

Edin has his eyes on taking a record fourth Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title this season, but he's also looking to finish at No. 1 on the World Curling Tour's year-to-date ranking and send a statement to the rest of the competition entering an Olympic year next season.


1st End: Jones wins 6th Players' title in the 6ix

Jennifer Jones’s preparation for the WestJet Players’ Championship paid off.

Jones added a sixth Players’ title to her record total downing Edmonton’s Val Sweeting 8-4 in Sunday’s final.

A three-ender in the third end to break a 2-2 tie proved to be the difference maker. Sweeting got back-to-back singles to draw near but couldn’t quite close the gap as Jones tacked on another two in six and stole one in seven to bring out the handshakes.

The Winnipeg-based team of Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen have won three of those Players’ titles together plus the inaugural Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Jones was obviously disappointed with her semifinal exit at the Manitoba Scotties, the first time she did not make it through provincials since 2004. She had worn either Manitoba or Team Canada colours at nationals every year during that run except in 2014 when she was a tad busy winning gold at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The nearly three-month layoff was quite a while to dwell, however, the team had the WestJet Players’ Championship to focus on, which is Jones’s favourite event on tour. There was also a bit of friendly revenge as motivation too after finishing runner-up to Scotland's Eve Muirhead in Toronto last season.

The teams crossed paths twice during the week with Muirhead taking their round-robin bout and Jones scoring the win in the quarterfinals. That loss was the only blemish on the record for Jones, who finished with a 7-1 record.

It’s quite the accomplishment to win one Players’ Championship title, but to score six of them is next level especially since the women’s division was only added to the event in 2006.


2nd End: Sweeting scores Rogers Grand Slam Cup

One point was all the difference for Sweeting to secure the Rogers Grand Slam Cup and the $75,000 bonus.

Sweeting’s stolen victory over Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg in the semifinals, coupled with Jones’s win over Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland, meant the title was clinched.

Even with Jones winning the WestJet Players’ Championship she was unable to catch Sweeting, who finished with 43 points. Jones tied for second place with Tirinzoni at 42. Tirinzoni entered the event in first place, but only held 27 points. Since a Players' Championship victory nets 25 points, that meant it was wide open until Sunday.

Sweeting started the year dropping a 0-4 record at the WFG Masters earning no points before rebounding big time with a Tour Challenge victory. A quarterfinal finish at the Boost National and a semifinal result at the Meridian Canadian Open put Sweeting right in the heat of the battle.

It was heartbreak for Hasselborg, who had another strong week, but just couldn’t get the proper path on her last rock, clipping Sweeting’s buried counter and rolling too far. Hasselborg finished fourth in the standings to earn an extra $10,000.


3rd End: Olympic Trials guaranteed spots unofficially set

We’re not saying they’re into the Olympic Trials, but they’re into the Olympic Trials.

Our unofficial tally sees Sweeting, Allison Flaxey, Chelsea Carey, Casey Scheidegger and Michelle Englot earn spots based on Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points. The five join Jones and Homan for the event in December in Ottawa to determine the Canadian reps for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Homan won the Canada Cup in 2015 to earn her spot while Jones got in based on 2015-16 points when a berth opened up after Carey won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts but missed the podium at the worlds last season.

The men’s side sees Jacobs, McEwen, John Epping and Steve Laycock get in to meet up with Kevin Koe (2015 Canada Cup), Carruthers (2016 Canada Cup) and Gushue (podium finish at this year’s worlds). John Morris could have taken that last spot away from Laycock, but both bowed out during the tiebreakers to stand pat in the points.

Curling Canada is expected to make an official announcement May 5 although there’s only one event to go that counts for CTRS points, this weekend’s European Masters, and none of the top Canadian teams are in it.

Two additional teams on both sides will get in via the side door through the pre-trials event to round out the nine-team fields. It’s not ideal, however, it’s how Jacobs and Morris made it to the 2013 Olympic Trials and squared off in the final.


4th End: Eriksson delivers shot of the season candidate

After Eriksson misfired earlier in the final and flashed a rock through the rings, he went and totally redeemed himself in the fifth end on a spectacular shot.

McEwen looked to be in position to score a bundle with a crowded house of red rocks, until Eriksson torpedoed his second stone into the cluster getting a triple takeout and spinning his shooter up to the button. That decluttered things and proved to be a huge swing as McEwen was forced to draw for just a single.


5th End: Gushue keeps momentum going to semifinals

One of the biggest questions heading into the week was whether Gushue could continue his pace from the world championship, where the gold medallist became the first to post a 13-0 record, or run out of gas and flame out.

Gushue, winner of seven Pinty's GSOC titles, showed some signs of fatigue making a few uncharacteristic misses, but overall had a very good week and came up just short of retaining the Players’ Championship title.

Lead Geoff Walker sustained a rib injury during the team’s final round-robin game Friday afternoon against Koe and was forced to leave the game during the third end.

Walker returned for the rematch in Saturday’s quarterfinals and while he wasn’t sweeping at 100 percent, throwing-wise he was scored a perfect game during the victory.

Team Gushue now gets a much-needed week off before gearing up for the Humpty’s Champions Cup. You can bet Gushue will be fired up for that one as it’s a title he hasn’t won before (although to be fair it’s only been around for a year).


6th End: Team Smith is here to stay

Smith’s season came an end in the semifinals to Edin, but what a season it has been.

The young Scottish squad finished runner-up to Edin at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 in just their second elite-level event in the series and one year removed from making their Pinty’s GSOC debut at the same event in the Tier 2 division.

Smith proved the Tour Challenge run wasn’t just a lucky week with a strong showing at the WestJet Players’ Championship. Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre has been good in the past to three-time Players' winner Eve Muirhead and it seems to run in the family. Her “wee bro” Thomas Muirhead throws third stones for Smith.

Team Smith qualified as the seventh seed for the playoffs with a 3-2 record and stunned Jacobs for a second time in the week during the quarterfinals.

The 2013 world junior champions have put in a lot of hard work getting to this point in a short span of time and it’s working out.


7th End: Field set for Humpty’s Champions Cup

The WestJet Players’ Championship was the last chance for teams to qualify for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. There were just a few crews at the event who hadn’t already punched their tickets though and among them only Smith and Tracy Fleury of Sudbury, Ont., advanced to the playoffs.

After Smith lost to Edin in the semis and Fleury fell to Hasselborg during the quarterfinals, the final Humpty’s Champions Cup spots were awarded to tour winners based on strength of field. Scotland’s Tom Brewster (Mercure Perth Masters) and Alina Paetz of Switzerland (International Bernese Ladies Cup) were next in line and both accepted their invites to complete the lineup.


8th End: Humpty’s Champions Cup info

With only eight days to go, expect the full match schedule for the Humpty’s Champions Cup to be announced soon. If you can’t make it to Calgary, Sportsnet will have you covered starting April 27.