Eight Ends: GSOC’s most memorable moments of 2017

Watch as Niklas Edin busts out his spin move on the final shot of the Canadian Open final, then shakes hands with winner Brad Gushue.

From first-time to multi-time champions plus the return of legends and historic runs, 2017 was filled with many memorable moments in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

Let’s reflect on the year that was for the series in Eight Ends before we switch calendars to 2018.

1st End: Meridian Canadian Open — Jan. 3-8, North Battleford, Sask.

Wow, what an entrance! Casey Scheidegger kicked off 2017 with a bang winning her first career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title in her top-tier debut no less.

It didn’t start off ideal though. Scheidegger, from Lethbridge, Alta., opened the tournament with a 1-2 record and fell to the C side of the triple knockout preliminary round. From there her team found their C legs winning five consecutive games en route to the title. Along the way, Scheidegger stunned Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones 6-5 in the quarterfinals and stole six points over three ends to swipe a 7-3 victory from Edmonton’s Val Sweeting during the semis.

Thievery was key in the final against Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland as well with Scheidegger pilfering points in the fourth and fifth ends to grab a 3-2 advantage. Tirinzoni took two in the sixth to reclaim the lead and Scheidegger settled for a single in the seventh stanza to knot it up heading into the dramatic final frame. Tirinzoni came up short on the last rock as Scheidegger stole another point and the title at 5-4.

The men’s final ended up being a preview of the world championship gold-medal match between Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., and Sweden’s Niklas Edin.

Gushue had just returned to competitive play a month earlier after missing the start of the season due to a hip/groin issue. The future Brier and world champ dominated the game throwing 100 percent. A huge four-ender in the second gave Gushue the lead and he never looked back closing things out with a trey in the sixth during the 8-3 victory. Edin pushed onward into the seventh end although it wasn’t a total waste as he scored entertainment points with a spin-a-rama.

2nd End: Princess Auto Elite 10 — March 16-19, Port Hawkesbury, N.S.

It was getting close to crunch time for qualifying to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup and John Morris was worried he wasn’t going to make it to the Calgary event. Morris, who lives in nearby Canmore, Alta., was discussing this problem in the GSOC production office prior to the Princess Auto Elite 10 when photographer Anil Mungal told him to just win this one and he’s in. Easier said than done, of course, but that’s exactly what happened.

Morris and his Vernon, B.C., team went 5-1 through the tournament capped with a 1-up victory over Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in the championship game. Fourth stones thrower Jim Cotter came through with the last rock of the game working the angles to make a slash and take the checkmark in the final frame.

Morris’s lone loss came against the Elite 10 Select squad featuring Jeff Stoughton, David Nedohin, Nolan Thiessen and Jamie Korab. The legends of the game returned to the series and proved they still had the right stuff as they went 3-1 through round-robin play and qualified for the playoffs.

Stoughton’s former teammate Reid Carruthers was victorious over his old skip during preliminary play and also took the rematch in the quarterfinals. The circle was complete: The learner was now the master.

3rd End: Players’ Championship — April 11-16, Toronto

Tre kronor: Edin captured his third career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s title (all three came in the 2016-17 season) at the historic 25th running of the Players’ Championship. The Swedish squad stole singles in the seventh and eighth ends to edge Mike McEwen’s Winnipeg team 5-3. Edin also earned the GSOC Bonus Cup for the men’s division scoring the most points over the course of the season.

Meanwhile, Jones captured her record sixth Players’ Championship women’s title in the city nicknamed the 6ix. Jones doubled up on Sweeting 8-4 in the final. Don’t fret for Sweeting though. By reaching the final, Sweeting secured the Bonus Cup women’s championship.

4th End: Humpty’s Champions Cup — April 25-30, Calgary

Reigning world women’s champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa ended the 2016-17 season on a high note by claiming the Humpty’s Champions Cup. Homan tapped to score two in the eighth end to clip Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg 5-4 during the final.

Sarah Wilkes was the super spare on Team Homan filling in for second Joanne Courtney, who was kind of busy that week earning silver for Canada at the world mixed doubles championship with Carruthers.

Jacobs captured his third career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title downing Calgary’s Kevin Koe 6-2 in a heavyweight tilt on the men’s side. Team Jacobs had joked in the past they were like golf’s Phil Mickelson when they hadn’t won a Grand Slam but now like “Lefty” they’re racking up the majors.

5th End: Tour Challenge Tier 1 — Sept. 5-10, Regina

Team Gushue and Team Sweeting were practically perfect to start the 2017-18 campaign at the Tour Challenge. Sure there were some nervous moments but both weathered the storm and finished with 7-0 records en route to the Tier 1 titles.

Gushue was in cruise control crushing newcomer Steffen Walstad of Norway 9-1 in the men’s final. Sweeting scored three in the sixth and stole a point in the eighth end to complete a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over Hasselborg for the women’s championship.

6th End: Tour Challenge Tier 2 — Sept. 5-10, Regina

It was a double win for Winnipeg in the Tier 2 division with Jason Gunnlaugson and Kerri Einarson earning the titles and promotions to the Masters.

A Winnipeg winner was guaranteed on the men’s side with Gunnlaugson facing city rival William Lyburn. Both skips threw down the gauntlet with Lyburn scoring four in the fifth before Gunnlaugson responded right back with a three-ender in six to establish a one-point gap. After Lyburn tied it in the seventh, Gunnlaugson needed to draw in the eighth and sweepers Connor Njegovan and Ian McMillan pulled the string to drag it in for the thrilling win.

Einarson took on Chelsea Carey, formerly of Winnipeg and now living in Calgary, for the women’s championship. Down by one, Einarson came out swinging with a double runback to score a three-ender in the sixth end and establish a grip on the game. Carey could only count one in the seventh and Einarson tacked on two more points in eight to win 7-4. It was Einarson’s second Tier 2 title in three seasons and as we’ll see in the next end, her team proved they belonged back in the top ranks.

7th End: Masters — Oct. 24-29, Lloydminster, Sask.

Gushue was golden again running undefeated at 7-0 once more to capture his third Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship of 2017 winning all three in Saskatchewan coincidentally (we were on the Saskatchewan side of the border in Lloydminster so it’s technically correct).

Team Gushue faced familiar foe Team Edin in the final and emerged victorious 8-4 thanks to a key three-ender in the fifth end.

Over on the women’s side, Jones and Einarson entered the final with unblemished records but only one Winnipeg-based team could finish undefeated. Jones capitalized with a three-spot in five, stole one in six and hung on from there to secure a 6-5 victory.

8th End: Boost National — Nov. 14-19, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Tensions were running high during the Boost National with several Canadian teams tuning up for the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials taking place just a couple weeks later. Perhaps that’s why a loose and relaxed Bruce Mouat of Scotland and Chang-Min Kim of South Korea slipped under the radar and into their first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s final.

Mouat, who qualified via tiebreakers, played like he had nothing to lose making incredible shot after shot to win 9-4. The 23-year-old Mouat made history becoming the youngest men’s skip to capture a Grand Slam.

The Team Jones training continued rolling through another tournament at 7-0. Jones captured her record ninth Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s championship with an 8-7 victory over Scheidegger in the final. It’s amazing Team Jones won three major championships in 2017 with a chance to complete the “Tiger Slam” at the Meridian Canadian Open in the new year.

Extra End: Shot of the year

Koe = clutch, but then you knew that already.

Rewinding to the Humpty’s Champions Cup men’s semifinal, Koe trailed by a point against Edin, but he held the all-important hammer coming home with an opportunity to score three. Koe tends to use up every minute of his thinking time so it was no surprise he had only 17 seconds left on the clock. No rush though as Koe did what he usually does and delivered a sensational runback double takeout to book a spot in the final.

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