8 Ends: WCF follows GSOC’s lead adopting 5-rock rule

Brad Jacobs shoots a stone during the 10th draw of the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in Regina. (Anil Mungal)

The World Curling Federation voted in favour of implementing the five-rock free guard zone, starting next season, during its annual general assembly Sunday in Slovenia.

If you’re wondering what the five-rock rule is, here’s a quick primer: teams cannot eliminate guards sitting in the free guard zone — the area outside the house from the tee line up to the nearest hog line — until five rocks have been played. This expands upon the old four-rock rule, which came about in the 1990s, as teams began to find ways around it by “ticking” guards to the side, keeping them on the ice but essentially out of play.

For the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling this changes … absolutely nothing. In fact, you can probably give credit to Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling competition director Pierre Charette for the widespread adoption of the rule as it has already been in place in the series for several years now.

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling experimented with the five-rock rule back at the 2011 Canadian Open. There were some skeptics at first, like Mike McEwen, but he was quickly won over when he captured the title! The concept was revisited after the Winter Olympics for the 2014 National and Players’ Championship tournaments and a players’ summit was held that summer where the curlers voted unanimously towards making the rule official for all Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events from that point forward.

So if you’re wondering what kind of impact the five-rock rule has on curling, you’ve already seen it: more rocks in play, more offence and fewer blank ends. Teams can’t sit onto one-point leads as a big end is always a possibility.

There will always be those resistant to change but all sports have to adapt in this increasingly competitive market for attention from fans whether it’s basketball introducing the three-point line or hockey allowing two-line passing. Even Major League Baseball is looking into adding a pitch clock to speed up the game and has been testing it out in the minor league and NCAA levels.

Curling is no different and the five-rock rule is just the next step along the evolutionary line.

1st End: Jacobs victorious again at Shorty Jenkins Classic

Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., captured his third Shorty Jenkins Classic title in five seasons after defeating Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen 3-1 during Sunday’s final in Cornwall, Ont.

Jacobs, who won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, broke a 1-1 tie with a deuce in the fourth end and held on from there as McEwen was unable to generate any more offence. Hmm, wonder if the five-rock rule would have helped?

It was the season debut for McEwen, who had to decline his invitation to the Tour Challenge as third B.J. Neufeld and lead Denni Neufeld were attending a wedding.

2nd End: Sinclair jumps out of the gate in U.S. race

American Jamie Sinclair captured the Shorty Jenkins Classic women’s title defeating Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., 6-5 in Sunday’s final.

The reigning U.S. champ Sinclair cracked open the scoring with a three-ender in the second and added a deuce in the fourth to lead 5-1 at the halfway mark. After splitting singles, McCarville tacked on two points in the seventh but couldn’t quite close the gap as Sinclair made an open hit in the eighth to concede one and secure the victory.

It was another strong tournament for Sinclair, who reached the semifinals at the Tour Challenge Tier 2 the week prior, and the hot start has put her Blaine, Minn., crew as the early front-runner among the U.S. women’s teams with their Olympic trials looming in November.

3rd End: Big names miss playoffs

No tiebreakers at the Shorty Jenkins Classic meant familiar faces like Toronto’s John Epping and Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers, who both finished with 3-2 records, missed the playoffs due to bad luck of the draw.

Two other notables also headed home early. Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., went 2-3 in round-robin play and didn’t qualify after going undefeated to win the Tour Challenge Tier 1. Sweden’s Niklas Edin also bowed out with a disappointing 1-4 record. It’s been a busy start to the season already for both with Gushue competing in the Everest Curling Challenge and Canad Inns Mixed Doubles events prior to the Tour Challenge while Edin was overseas in Switzerland winning the Baden Masters.

4th End: Walstad continues to rise up the ranks

No funny pants? No problem for Norway’s Steffen Walstad.

While compatriot Thomas Ulsrud rose to fame thanks to wearing Loudmouth pants, Walstad’s play has been doing all of the talking as of late.

Walstad finished runner-up at the Tour Challenge earlier this month in his Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling debut and followed that up with a semifinal finish at the Shorty Jenkins Classic. Walstad posted a 4-1 round-robin record and defeated Kyle Smith in the quarterfinals before falling to McEwen.

Meanwhile, Ulsrud went 3-2 during round-robin play, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the playoffs.

5th End: Muirhead swipes HDF Insurance Shoot-Out

The HDF Insurance Shoot-Out title that got away returned to Eve Muirhead of Scotland.

Muirhead, who finished runner-up at the Edmonton event last season, was victorious in Sunday’s final with a 7-5 extra-end win over Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg.

Hasselborg led 5-2 heading into the eighth, but Muirhead completed the comeback with a three-ender to tie it and a steal of two in the extra.

The four-time Grand Slam champion Muirhead fell in last year’s final to Casey Scheidegger in a 6-5 upset after giving up single steals through the final four ends.

6th End: Worlds expanding

The World Curling Federation also announced during its annual general assembly it is expanding the field for its world men’s and women’s championships to 13 by adding a third berth for teams from the Pacific-Asia zone.

It was a no-brainer considering how fast the game is growing in the region plus the potential audience reach for new fans and even just looking at where the next couple Winter Olympics will be held.

Only the finalists from the Pacific-Asia championship qualified for the worlds previously and with contenders from Japan, South Korea and China meant someone would always end up on the outside looking in. Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa experienced that last season after the 2016 world silver medallist failed to reach the final of last season’s Pacific-Asia championship. Fujisawa went from earning the country’s first-ever medal at the worlds one year to not even competing in the event the next and something needed to be done to fix that.

7th End: Closing in on Masters

Qualification is now closed for the second Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event and first major of the season, the Masters, as this past weekend marked the cut-off date.

Tour Challenge Tier 2 winners Team Gunnlaugson and Team Einarson already have their spots secured and invites are now in the mail for the rest of the field. Keep it here for future updates.

Single draw tickets are now available for the Masters along with full-event and weekend passes. Visit Lloydgsoc.goigniter.com for more details.

8th End: Next up on the World Curling Tour

The Colonial Square Ladies Classic headlines this weekend’s action at the Nutana Curling Club in Saskatoon.

Three men’s and women’s events are also taking place across Canada with the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic in Winnipeg, the KW Fall Classic in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., and the Lakeshore Curling Club Cashspiel in Lower Sackville, N.S.

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