Eight Ends: Bizarre early blizzard wipes out high-stakes Manitoba event

Reid Carruthers watches a stone as Derek Samagalski (left) and Colin Hodgson (right) sweep during the 2018 Princess Auto Elite 10 in Chatham-Kent, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

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1st End: As Team McEwen lead Colin Hodgson said, if legendary skip Glenn Howard hadn’t seen something like this on tour then it’s definitely never happened before.

Last week’s Canad Inns Men’s Classic in Portage la Prairie, Man., was one for the record books for all the wrong reasons. Typically one of the premier events on tour, the event had barely started when it was cancelled due to an early-season blizzard that knocked out the power and shut down the main highway — leaving players and teams stranded.

“We heard how bad it was going to be but generally I feel they don’t always go that way when they say it’s going to be a bad storm and it’s so bad that you can’t actually get out there,” Hodgson said Wednesday during a phone interview. “It was almost frightening. … Living on the prairies my whole life, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Second Derek Samagalski wasn’t so lucky, getting stuck in the snow 20 miles down the road (the team joked Samagalski should hitch a ride on a snowmobile). Hodgson, third Reid Carruthers and skip Mike McEwen were forced to play their first — and only completed — game against Team Morozumi as a trio. They still managed to pull off a 7-2 victory.

“I was pretty happy I got to throw some runbacks and peels because leads never get to play fun shots anymore,” Hodgson said. “Reid and Mike played really well, we beat Morozumi and put together a good game.”

2nd End: It wasn’t all fun and games for Hodgson on the snow day as the power went out Friday night. Although everyone tried to make the most of the situation, with no sign of the power returning soon and the ice melting, the tournament was called off.

Hodgson praised the host venue for taking care of everyone through the ordeal.

“It was pretty great what they did and the fact that they took all of these people in — just anybody who walked through their doors, they looked after them,” Hodgson said. “There were a lot of families there. There were clearly families that trekked pretty hard to get to the venue or to get somewhere where they might have some food or whatever and they just shelled it out. They said they have some people there and we’re going to feed them and keep them warm.

“Luckily, there was some service at the front of the building for cellphones, so everybody congregated at the front the whole time. It was pretty cool that event, a unique experience for sure.”

Skip Kirk Muyres, who was also trapped in Portage, echoed those comments.

“They found a way to get us some food and we just kind of chilled out,” Muyres said. “It was kind of neat. We got to spend lots of time with the other teams and just the camaraderie was a lot of fun. It was a neat day sitting and waiting for the power to come back on.”

3rd End: Cancelling the Canad Inns Men’s Classic was a huge blow for Team McEwen as they were aiming to bank crucial points in order to move up the rankings and solidify their spot in future Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events.

“We’re definitely a bubble team right now,” said Hodgson, whose team is currently ranked 13th in the world. “We want to make sure that we get into those events. It’s going to put a strain in the coming weeks because we’re trying to put together a plan.”

Hodgson said teams are inquiring with other events all over Canada to see if they can squeeze in.

“We’re all in a fight for points here and that event being cancelled was massive,” Hodgson said. “That was a lot of points that didn’t get distributed out there.”

Muyres, who is ranked 18th, wasn’t too concerned, though, as all of the top teams were at the event so everyone remained idle in the standings.

“All things being equal, nobody got any points, nobody lost any points, you just kind of move on,” Muyres said. “Honestly, I wasn’t too worried. Obviously, we wanted to play, we wanted to perform and we wanted to practise and get better but all in all, from a points standpoint and moving up the rankings, not a huge blow to us anyway because … the teams that were there that didn’t get any points were the ones we’re working with.”

It did put a dent in Muyres’s pocketbook, but as he said, “such is life, I guess.”

4th End: Team McEwen was building momentum with skip Mike McEwen back in the lineup after missing the first couple of events on the schedule while recovering from off-season knee surgery.

The Winnipeg-based club went on an undefeated run through the WCT Uiseong International Curling Cup in South Korea at the start of the month and that glimmer in McEwen’s eye returned that sparked his previous squad to seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles.

“He got in that scary Mike mode where we’ve seen it against us lots over the years and I don’t necessarily know if we got to that position last year,” Hodgson said. “It completely changed things in my mind. We were probably not in a great spot playing with spares and trying to work our systems with someone who’s not familiar with them and then going straight into it.

“Mike got in Mike mode, which feels good. It gives you a lot of confidence and reminds us why we put this team together and the way we put it together. It was a huge difference to have him back in that mode and having him confident. It gave us all confidence and we all played significantly better than what we did the first couple weeks I feel like.”

5th End: Team McEwen went into the South Korea event with low expectations and focused on just enjoying the experience, especially off the ice. Hodgson, who is a trained chef, raved about the cuisine as among his favourites and exceeded his high expectations.

“I really like eating savoury items for breakfast and having ramen and noodle bowls at 7 a.m. is pretty awesome,” he said. “Not only that, we had some of our best meals on tour ever. We had some amazing Italian, some great fried chicken, maybe more traditional Chinese. It was pretty intense how high quality the food was. I was blown away that’s for sure. …

“I had the best risotto I’ve ever had in Korea. It was amazing.”

Hodgson believes they were able to feed off that positive off-ice experience when they hit the ice; it’s hard to argue against that considering they brought home the chip.

6th End: Elsewhere on tour, in an event that actually happened, Kerri Einarson’s team successfully defended the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic in Calgary. Team Einarson finished 7-0 both in wins-losses and in the final, shutting out Casey Scheidegger’s team, who had Cheryl Bernard subbing at skip.

That also makes it a two-for-two start for Team Einarson following their Booster Juice Shoot-Out title win last month. Considering they went on a tear during this time frame a year ago winning four consecutive tour titles, it’s not a total surprise. They have dialled back their schedule a little bit as the new No. 1 ranked women’s team is no longer in a pinch for points and can conserve some energy. Having said that, they are in a busy stretch right now competing in the Canad Inns Women’s Classic this upcoming weekend followed by the Masters after that.

7th End: Speaking of the Masters, the start of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season is just around the corner beginning Tuesday night at Memorial Gardens in North Bay, Ont.

Tickets are still available, although they’re flying, so get yours before they’re gone at thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets. Broadcast coverage begins next Thursday at noon Eastern time on Sportsnet with online streaming available via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

It might be an interesting event as the Canad Inns Men’s Classic cancellation denied teams a chance to really tune up before the major tournament.

“I think we’ve only played eight games together as a team this entire season,” Hodgson said. “I don’t know if a lot of teams are really getting some good reps in. I know there’s some injuries out there with some of the other Slam teams as well … so this is probably the strangest season I’ve seen on tour.”

Hodgson fully expects his team to come out and play well even if they’re grouped with the likes of Brendan Bottcher, Niklas Edin, Brad Gushue and Matt Dunstone.

“I think we’ve got a hard pool but nowadays I don’t know if it matters at the Slams,” Hodgson said. “You could play the No. 1 ranked team or the No. 10 ranked team in the world and I don’t think it’s a huge jump off like it used to be anymore.

“We’ve just got to go in there and play like we did in Korea. Limit the mistakes and the damage and we can certainly be competitive. We’ve just got to make playoffs so that’s all we really have to focus on is performing. The points will sort themselves out; there’s no real point in focusing too much on those other than just once we get into the quarterfinals we need to win that game in order to get into the semis. That makes a huge difference.”

8th End: The field has also been finalized for the second Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event, the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge, running Nov. 5-10 at the Pictou County Wellness Centre in Pictou County, N.S.

The series announced Wednesday the 60 teams that will be in action and you can check out the full list by clicking here. Tickets for the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge are also available at thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets.

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