Team Einarson carry bubble momentum into Humpty’s Champions Cup

Canada's Kerri Einarson pulls off another one of her trademark runback doubles to score three points in the third end against Satsuki Fujisawa in the Humpty's Champions Cup.

The bubble at Calgary’s WinSport Arena has been a case of keeping up with Kerri Einarson and her team from Gimli, Man.

Team Einarson kicked things off in February successfully defending the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title and the skip followed that up capturing the Canadian mixed doubles title with Brad Gushue.

Einarson is now the early front-runner in the Humpty’s Champions Cup becoming the first to clinch a spot for the playoffs after climbing to a 3-0 record with an 8-2 victory over Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa during the sixth round-robin draw Friday.

“It feels pretty awesome,” Team Einarson second Shannon Birchard said. “This is exactly how we wanted to start off this event, just keep the momentum rolling from every other event we’ve had in the bubble so far. I think we’re seeing some really great things, just continuing to build each game and hope we keep doing that.”

Even with a playoff berth secure and a game in hand Saturday against Russia’s Team Alina Kovaleva, they don’t want to ease up heading into the weekend, especially with a bye to the semifinals also up for grabs.

“Obviously, we’ve got a little bit of security,” Birchard said. “We do want that bye and be 4-0. You don’t want to take your foot off the gas right before heading into playoffs. We want to keep strong and keep doing what we’re doing out there.”

Einarson was already up 2-1 in the third when she fired one of her trademark runback double takeouts to score a critical three-ender.

“She’s on fire right now,” Birchard said. “It’s great. The skip’s got to save your butt every once in a while. We don’t like to make her do that too many times but she’s made a few peaches out there this week so far.”

It was deja vu in the fourth as another runback double from Einarson put the pressure on Fujisawa, however, the 2018 Olympic bronze medallist also made a highlight-reel shot raising and pinballing her way to land on the lid for a single.

After Einarson matched with a point in five, Fujisawa (0-2) needed to make an Einarson-esque runback in six to potentially score big. Her shooter over-curled though and only eliminated one to leave behind two counters for a steal that led to goodbye waves. Birchard said continuing to put the pressure on them even with the large lead was key.

“In the ends where we didn’t have the hammer, we put a lot of pressure on them, got those forces when we needed to and were able to keep our lead and keep control of the game,” Birchard said. “That was huge.”

The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the first of back-to-back Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events featuring 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams from around the world. The series is testing a new rule at the Humpty’s Champions Cup called the no tick zone. A rock touching the centre line, in the free guard zone, may not be moved off the centre line by the opposing team until the sixth rock of the end.

Elsewhere, Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan improved to a 2-1 record with an 8-7 victory over Kovaleva (1-1). Homan, who gave birth to daughter Bowyn just three weeks ago, sustained her lone defeat so far in the opening draw Thursday and played pretty well but left Einarson, what else, a game-winning runback double takeout to score three for the 6-3 victory.

Homan hasn’t missed a match after skipping her Team Ontario squad to a second place finish in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

“We felt like we had a great run at the Scotties and we’re so excited to be able to build off of that,” Team Homan lead Joanne Courtney said. “Obviously, less than ideal preparation going into the event without any practice ice whatsoever, so we’re really happy with how we’re just grinding it out there and trying to learn after every shot. It’s such a thrill Sportsnet and Grand Slam of Curling was able to put this event on and great for us to get some more repetitions heading into next season.”

The plan was for Emma Miskew to move up from third to skip with Edmonton’s Laura Walker coming on board as a sub at third. However, plans changed.

“I think it goes without saying she’s a bit of a medical marvel,” Courtney said. “The fact that she wanted to come out here and play, we were absolutely supportive of it ensuring that everything felt OK. It’s phenomenal that we have Laura around for backup just in case. It’s unbelievable that she’s able to do this, having played so far along into the Scotties and then to be back this fast is nothing short of incredible. It’s something I would never be able to do myself but we’re super proud of her and to see her grit and determination on her end is incredible. She’s working around the clock right now with a newborn and to still want to get out there and play with us is very special.”

“Her thoughts are: it’s different for everyone,” Courtney added. “For her, she felt like she wanted to and we’re never going to tell Rachel what to do. When she gets that focus and that attention to play — I don’t even know if Bowyn was a week old when she told us that she wanted to come. We just wanted to support her and help facilitate that and then of course make sure everything is safe for everyone involved. It’s a pretty special thing we’re doing out there and I’m very proud of her and very impressed.”

Team Homan are using Goldline’s new United We Curl brooms designed by Black and Indigenous curlers to bring attention to their cultures and raise awareness for inclusion in curling.

“We’re so thrilled to be involved,” Courtney said. “What’s been put together by Goldline with the United We Curl initiative is just so important right now in our game. Amplifying the voices of those that are underrepresented is something that we really believe in and we are just so happy to be able to showcase these beautiful brushes. Deb Martin made such a nice design. For us out there to be able to look at what we have in our hands and just feel that pride to be involved in this initiative is a really special feeling.”

Team Tabitha Peterson of the United States grabbed their first win of the tournament defeating Switzerland’s Team Elena Stern 6-4. Peterson pulled even to a 1-1 record while Stern slipped to 0-2.

In the lone men’s game, Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller topped Team Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris, Man., 8-3. Schwaller is now at 2-1 while Gunnlaugson dropped to 0-3.

The event is closed to the general public. Round-robin play continues Friday at 6 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. local time on Sportsnet East, Ontario, Pacific and Sportsnet ONE with online streaming at Sportsnet Now (Canada) and Yare (international).

Pool play runs through to Saturday with quarterfinals and semifinals on Sunday and both finals set for Monday. The Princess Auto Players’ Championship begins Tuesday.

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