CHATHAM-KENT, Ont. — The first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of 2018-19 is in the books and history was made at Thames Campus Arena.
A sold-out crowd witnessed Anna Hasselborg’s team capture the first-ever Princess Auto Elite 10 women’s championship following a clinical 4-and-2 match-play win Sunday over Silvana Tirinzoni. The title victory was also the first for Hasselborg and a Swedish-based women’s team in the series.
Meanwhile, Brad Gushue and his St. John’s, N.L., crew may have jumped out of the gate late compared to their competitors but once they hit the track they were off to the races and into the winner’s circle once again. Gushue topped Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers 1 UP in the men’s final.
Here are some takeaways from the Princess Auto Elite 10 in Eight Ends:
1st End: Off to a Gu start
First off, flashback to the end of last season when Gushue captured the Humpty’s Champions Cup, thus securing a spot in that event again the following year.
Gushue said: “It takes a little bit of the pressure off but certainly, I think the way we’re going I’m pretty confident we’ll win one more next year but you never know.”
The Gu oozes confidence certainly and sure enough there his team was claiming another title, the 11th in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling for the team and 10th in the past four years. That’s quite the impressive double-digit haul considering the next-best men’s team over that stretch — Team McEwen with four Grand Slam title wins — doesn’t even exist anymore.
“I just love curling with these guys,” Gushue said. “We have a ton of fun out there. We’re joking around, we’re ribbing each other. It’s fun and I think the fact that we have this much fun, it keeps us loose in big moments like this and allows us to perform the way we have in these big games.”
Other teams hit the road early this season having already played in World Curling Tour events, but Team Gushue was entering the Princess Auto Elite 10 untested. Gushue and third Mark Nichols hadn’t even hit the ice until the Sunday prior to the Princess Auto Elite 10, so it would have been understandable had they stumbled.
The only obvious hiccup came in their second round-robin game against Team Howard when they were caught slipping on the four-minutes-per-end time clock giving up a steal in the first end. That was enough to throw them off as they were unable to gain the lead and lost by one point.
It turned out to be their lone defeat of the week and the team even exceeded Gushue’s expectations as he had booked their flights back home for Sunday not anticipating they’d be in the final, never mind winning it, and had to make a quick switch.
Gushue caught some breaks in the final scoring both his points off of steals as Team Carruthers fourth Mike McEwen made some uncharacteristic (and untimely) mistakes on his final shots. Team Carruthers rallied late picking up a point in the seventh but Gushue was able to hold on and preserve the 1 UP victory.
A typical Team Gushue start as they also opened the previous Olympic cycle winning the first Grand Slam (2014 Masters) and kicked off the 2017-18 campaign capturing the Tour Challenge Tier 1.
Even when Gushue & co. aren’t at their best, they’re still good enough to beat the world’s best.
2nd End: Third time’s the crown for Hasselborg
Hasselborg had been on the cusp of capturing a Grand Slam title a couple times already. In fact, it was just over a year ago, when the Tour Challenge Tier 1 was held in early September 2017, her team sustained a heartbreaking loss in the final as her last rock slid off target to give up a steal and the title to Team Sweeting.
With the third final came the coronation. Although Team Hasselborg had only played the format once previously — under skins game rules at the Continental Cup — they were in their element running the table and posting a perfect record. The format suited their strengths literally as Team Hasselborg delivers a hard-hitting style and was able to demolish quarries of rocks in their path. Coach-of-the-week Wayne Middaugh was also a huge help. Middaugh won four high-profile skins game tournaments and provided Team Hasselborg all the pointers they needed.
“I think we gave us some really good odds bringing in Wayne,” third Sara McManus said. “We stuck to our game plan and we had a good strategy out there, trying to believe in it and not trying to complicate things. That is the hard part. Even if you gave up plenty of points in one end you just try to stay focus and like, OK, that was just one end, so we pulled off a great week.”
It wasn’t a breeze as they erased a 2-down deficit to Rachel Homan’s Ottawa-based club by winning the sixth end and stealing seven and eight to wrap up round-robin play 4-0-0-0 with the maximum 12 points scored. The rematch in the semifinals turned into a repeat with Hasselborg holding on for another 1 UP victory over her longtime rival.
Hasselborg’s title victory is eerily similar to another Olympic champion and world silver medallist who won his first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship in his third finals appearance: Brad Jacobs. He also knew as long as his team kept putting in the hard work and plugging away, good things would come.
“This has been a goal for us since we came into the Slam series,” Hasselborg said. “To do it this early in the season really proves that we are on the right track. I’m just so happy with how the team performed today. We played the best game so far.”
3rd End: Kudos to Carruthers
Carruthers was quite pleased with his retooled team’s performance at the event their main sponsor, Princess Auto, also happens to be the title sponsor.
It’s not easy bringing in a new back-end player with former skip Mike McEwen now at fourth and Carruthers sliding over to third plus reformatting your team’s style of play to accommodate that. Those growing pains were evident during their first tournament of the season a couple weeks ago at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., where they missed the playoffs and incurred a couple blowout losses to Team Horgan and Team Homan (no, not Rachel but her brother Mark).
There were no signs of them needing a tuneup during the Princess Auto Elite 10 with the team running red-hot undefeated until meeting Gushue in the final.
“It’s awesome,” Carruthers said. “Start to the year, we played Cornwall, didn’t go all that well. We made some tweaks, we had some good team meetings and to come back, make the final and lose to a guy like Brad, I think there’s a little bit of a silver lining. We played pretty well.”
It helps the format suits McEwen and has brought out the best in him with a remarkable three finals appearances and two championships in four appearances. Mikey likes it when he needs to make a ridiculous clutch shot to score big (remember this one from 2014) and it’s definitely a confidence boost when you can pull it off.
Two of Carruthers’s wins during the week came via shootout with McEwen earning the honours both times. Still, it’s a true team effort to pull it off relying on second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson to sweep the rock properly and skip Carruthers holding the broom in the right spot when McEwen is lining up his shot.
This is just the beginning of a busy stretch for Team Carruthers as they now head up Highway 401 for the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, which starts Friday at the Royal Canadian Curling Club. Carruthers then competes in the Canad Inns Men’s Classic the following weekend closer to home in Portage la Prairie, Man., where his team is the double defending champion (and McEwen is a four-time winner with his old squad).
“We’ve got to make sure we try to kick our feet up for a couple days, get one practice in before we head out to the next event,” Carruthers said. “We’re in a three-week stretch, we’ve got to make sure we’re getting some nice recovery before we get back on the ice.”
4th End: Tirinzoni, Paetz chemistry continues
It was interesting both teams that finished runner-up follow the same blueprint having their skip make a recent switch to throwing third stones and bringing in a former skip (and rival) to toss fourth. It helps in an event like this to divvy up the responsibilities with clock management being a factor too.
The not-so-secret weapon on Tirinzoni’s Swiss team is Alina Paetz, who can deliver quite the punch with the last brick. Although Paetz struggled in the final, she showed flashes of her 2015 world championship performance in the semis against Jennifer Jones, who she defeated thrice en route to gold that year.
Tirinzoni said last month during the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard they had only been practising together for two months but it already felt like two years. Just like Team Carruthers, they’re on the verge of greatness.
5th End: Epping earns another playoff appearance
Toronto’s John Epping and his new-look team had another solid run adding to their semifinal finish to start at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and a title victory at the Shorty Jenkins Classic.
Epping — with new second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill — reached the semifinals at the Princess Auto Elite 10 falling to Carruthers in a shootout.
While it was a disappointing finish with Epping throwing last and coming up short, the shootout is a bit of a toss-up as the ice conditions are trickier late into the game (and late at night) plus given the nature of match play — being all-or-nothing shots by the skip to try and score two — it can be a while since a skip has even had to throw a draw.
Team Epping will also compete in the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard this weekend and likely headed on another collision course versus Carruthers.
6th End: Sickest shot of the Princess Auto Elite 10
We might already have our shot of the year … and the year just started!
Jacobs and his crew from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had their backs against the wall in the semifinals against Gushue down by three after five ends. This meant things were now “dormie,” i.e. they had to win the remaining three ends in regulation and a draw-to-the-button shootout to stay alive. Even a push (single or blank) would result in elimination.
Team Jacobs fought to the finish with the skip firing this raise double takeout to check the sixth end.
The plot thickened as Jacobs managed to steal in seven, but Gushue shut it down in the eighth for the victory.
7th End: Quick takeouts
– Team Hasselborg is well aware of the competition knocking at their door in Sweden. Team Isabella Wrana, the 2017 world junior champions, have turned it up earning their first title on tour last month at the Shorty Jenkins Classic. McManus believes it’ll only make them better by having a team pushing them to perform with the opportunity to represent Sweden at the European Championships on the line now.
“We feel like it’s a benefit for us to have a great team to compete aside along,” McManus said. “Now it comes down to the two last tournaments that we have and I think that it’s great. We love not being comfortable and we really showed it this week. I hope that we can keep it going, so it’s going to be really fun.”
– The Princess Auto Elite 10 marked the first time most of us have seen some familiar faces in new places. On top of those already mentioned, Team Fleury, Team Carey and Team Walker made their GSOC debuts with their new lineups. Walker was the only one of the three to qualify for the playoffs. Even then, Team Carey had new, new lead Heather Rogers filling in for Rachel Brown, who is expecting a baby. The new-look Team Koe, with third B.J. Neufeld and second Colton Flasch, carried some of the momentum from their Curling World Cup victory making the quarterfinals.
– The ageless and iconic Glenn Howard once again qualified for the playoffs. The thorn happened to be Ontario rival Epping though. Epping downed Howard during the opening round-robin draw (Howard pulled no punches calling it “one of the worst I’ve played in years”) and it was a repeat in the quarterfinals, too.
– Musical chairs: Team Epping’s Laing and Savill won 12 Grand Slams with Howard while Team Howard third Scott Howard and second David Mathers picked up the 2012 Players’ Championship with Epping. Lead Tim March, winner of the 2015 Meridian Canadian Open, just recently made the move from Epping to Howard’s squad.
8th End: So just chill, ’til the next episode
The second event of the 2018-19 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour is the Canadian Beef Masters running Oct. 23-28 at Rath Eastlink Community Centre in Truro, N.S.
Both the teams and pools have been set with the reigning world junior champions Team Kaitlyn Jones receiving an invitation as a sponsor’s exemption.
Tickets are now available for the Canadian Beef Masters, visit Ticketpro.ca or call 1-888-311-9090 to purchase yours today.