Eight Ends: Homan continues comeback GSOC season to close calendar

Rachel Homan knocks off defending Boost National champions in Team Einarson to claim the title, for her 9th Grand Slam of Curling win.

CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — The 2018 portion of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season has come to a finish and what a way to close out the calendar year.

We knew it was going to be an electric event for the Boost National at CBS Arena when full-event passes sold out months in advance and in only a few days. Even additional standing room only tickets were hard to come by.

While Team Gushue was the overwhelming favourite, cheering for good shots by all is what curling fans are known for and they were quickly won over by the likes of Team Mouat, despite the fact they somehow stymied the local lads twice in two days including the quarterfinal elimination match.

We’re already looking forward to what 2019 has in store with three more events coming up this season.

Here are our takeaways from the Boost National in Eight Ends.

1st End: Homan continues comeback GSOC season to close calendar

Team Rachel Homan is back and they’ve put the locker room on notice.

The Ottawa-based club captured the Boost National women’s title following a 4-1 victory over Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., in Sunday’s final. Homan earned her ninth championship in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tying Jennifer Jones for the most all-time among women’s skips.

Homan finished the tournament with a 6-1 record including a decisive 6-2 victory over Jones in the semifinals that featured an amazing double takeout to score three key points.

Team Homan closed out 2018 with a vengeance as they also finished runner-up at the Canadian Beef Masters and claimed the Tour Challenge. That’s three consecutive finals and back-to-back championships, not too shabby. Extend that run to the end of last season even and throw in their Humpty’s Champions Cup title defence from late April and that’s four finals with three championships through five events.

That’s a scorching stretch we haven’t seen from anyone since, well, Team Homan when they won three Grand Slam majors in a row in 2015. Vintage Homan has returned (yes, we’re aware that’s not quite vintage but that’s the joke).

It’s been a roller-coaster year for Team Homan from the high of heading into 2018 getting to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics to the disappointment of not qualifying for the medal round at the Pyeongchang Games to redemption in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. Team Homan started the 2017-18 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling campaign missing the playoffs in consecutive events and even went 0-5 for the first time ever at the prestigious Players’ Championship. They didn’t even win a playoff game in the series until the aforementioned Humpty’s Champions Cup where they also needed a tiebreaker just to qualify.

Team Homan is peaking at the perfect time with a busy January ahead featuring the Meridian Canadian Open — an opportunity to crack double-digit title wins and take sole possession of No. 1 — to provincial playdowns on the long road to wear the Maple Leaf once more at the worlds.

2nd End: Paterson, Mouat leading Scottish revival

Canada may think they own the game of curling but a couple of Scottish men’s teams are reminding us where the birthplace of The Roaring Game lies.

Team Ross Paterson and Team Bruce Mouat met in the Boost National men’s final, the first-ever all-Scottish final (men or women) in Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling history. That fact didn’t escape either side as they were aware of the magnitude of the moment with mutual respect between both clubs.

Team Mouat was on fire heading into the final with an undefeated 6-0 record including a 7-1 rout over Team Paterson, but their opponent got the better of them in the rematch.

Mouat opened with the hammer and looked to make a hit and roll on a Paterson stone but missed the mark and went through the house untouched. What should have been a deuce turned into a steal and a huge swing that Mouat was unable to pendulum back. Paterson never fell behind and outlasted Mouat 4-3 in an extra end.

Full credit to Team Paterson as they not only shook off the bad loss to Mouat in pool play but an 8-1 thrashing at the hands of Gushue. Paterson bounced right back brushing off Olympic bronze medallists Team Peter de Cruz to wrap up the round-robin at 2-2 to qualify and knocked out reigning world champions and Olympic silver medallists Team Niklas Edin in the quarterfinals. A semifinal victory over Team Glenn Howard punched their ticket to the title game.

What makes their run this weekend even more impressive is it’s only Paterson’s first season as a skip and it’s even caught him by surprise. Paterson has played on tour for many years under the tutelage of David Murdoch, Tom Brewster and most recently with Greg Drummond but this is his first year at the men’s level actually calling the game and with a new team, too.

In any other sport this is what you’d label a rebuilding year and one where you would expect tons of growing pains, slow starts and rookie mistakes to define their play. That’s not the case here, at all, as Paterson has now joined Mouat, who entered as the defending champion, as the only Scottish men’s skips to win titles in the series.

3rd End: Einarson taking steps to Grand Slam success

The fact Team Einarson ended the final on a disappointment shouldn’t take away the week they had reaching the championship game in the first place.

They persevered and had to battle their way out of a tiebreaker just to qualify. That seemed to spark something as their tiebreaker game against Team Jamie Sinclair was totally lopsided with Einarson earning a 12-0 shutout and scoring all of her points off of steals in just four ends. You don’t start a game stealing back-to-back four-enders unless you’re doing something right and forcing your opponent into doing something wrong.

An unlikely underdog as the No. 8 seed, Einarson then took on undefeated Team Anna Hasselborg, the reigning Olympic gold medallists, and cooled the red-hot rink down 8-3 to hand them their first and only loss of the event. Einarson scored a five-ender to oust Team Silvana Tirinzoni by an identical score in the semifinals.

The turning point of this final came early here too as Einarson went for a risk/reward shot in the third end to possibly score a bunch but instead gave up a steal.

Einarson was unable to regroup and get on track to generate offence as steals continued to pile on to trail 4-0 with only two ends to go. Even when they did strike the scoreboard in the seventh it was still a missed chance as a draw for two went an inch too far resulting in only a single point and giving Homan a three-point cushion heading into the final frame with the hammer.

Homan didn’t even need to throw her last as a hit with her first skip stone ran Einarson out of opportunities to steal and force an extra.

Team Einarson, who won four consecutive World Curling Tour titles, are taking those steps to climb in the Grand Slams from missing the playoffs at the Canadian Beef Masters to reaching the semifinals at the Tour Challenge to a runner-up result at the Boost National. They’re now on the verge of that next step.

4th End: Glenn’s still got it

It’s been a renaissance year for Team Glenn Howard, especially in the past couple of months. The Penetanguishene, Ont., club won back-to-back titles on tour recently taking the Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic and Nissan Curling Classic with both victories sandwiched by Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling semifinal results.

And to those saying, “Well, Glenn didn’t actually play in Halifax. They had super spare Adam Spencer that week,” then I’ll counter by adding their runner-up finish at the Humpty’s Champions Cup to close out last season in April.

The 56-year-old Howard is snubbing the nay-sayers who said he should have retired although he’s not still playing out of spite. He’s competing at the top level and hanging in there side-by-side with his son Scott Howard at third and having fun. What’s not to love about that?

5th End: The Wizard of Woz

Matt Wozniak was the super spare of the week (the only spare of the week actually) on Team Brad Jacobs. With Ryan Fry away on personal leave, E.J. Harnden moved up to third and the seven-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion Wozniak slid into the second spot.

Jacobs rode the wave from their spirited Tour Challenge title victory from last month plus their Canada Cup win the previous weekend to take the No. 2 seed for the playoffs at 4-0.

Although it was an unusual set of circumstances, Jacobs enjoyed his time with former rival Wozniak in the mix.

“Just a great, all-around person I would say,” Jacobs said after the round robin. “We’re having a lot of fun with him. He’s very helpful out on the ice. He’s playing great. …

“We’re having a blast with him and really enjoying one another’s company. To have played as a team in this event and gone undefeated in the round robin, I know is special for us and I’m sure it’s special for Matt, too.”

Even having Harnden return to the back end of the lineup where he played prior to Fry’s arrival in 2012 and re-establishing that dynamic with little-to-no prep time for that role was impressive.

“I know E.J. was excited to move up to third and get the opportunity to play back end,” Jacobs said. “It’s been a long time since he has and he was up for the challenge. He knew that it would be a good test and he even said he’s kind of regaining an appreciation for what it’s like to play back end.

“The dynamic between him and I has been awesome all week. He’s been very patient with me and very helpful. I would say he’s played fantastic and we’re having a lot of fun in the back end. He really did transition from second to third very seamlessly, so it’s good to see.”

6th End: Gu gone in quarterfinals, Part III

There was no party on George Street in St. John’s after this one with Team Gushue falling in the quarterfinals.

Although this is the third straight quarterfinal exit in the series for Team Gushue, it wasn’t like they underperformed and cracked. The team shot 92 percent in the quarterfinal against Mouat with their skip firing at an outstanding 96 percent clip. In the past being good would be good enough for them but running into the white-hot Team Mouat twice was just too much. Even Kevin Koe, who probably played his best game of the season so far in the semifinals, couldn’t solve Mouat.

There is pressure playing at home, especially with a full barn of family, friends and fans, but you can’t blame that as they’re ones to embrace that atmosphere more than anything. Just see their 2017 Brier performance for evidence of that.

The reigning Pinty’s Cup champions are also still in the lead in the points standings this season although Koe has closed to within one with just two events remaining in the race.

7th End: Sickest shot of the week

Forget about just the week, Brad Jacobs’ shot against Edin qualifies for shot of the year or even all-time in the series considering both the degree of difficulty and the clutchness of scoring with the last rock of the eight end to push the match into an extra that led to a steal.

Calling it a double raise in-off doesn’t give it enough credit as Jacobs pinballed around the sheet like a wizard to land shot stone.

Although it’s not a shot on the ice, we also have to give credit to Brent Laing and Jennifer Jones’s youngest daughter Skyla for reminding us that curling is just a sport, sometimes even a silly sport, and there are more important things in life.

8th End: Thank u, next

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling returns after the break to kick off the New Year with the Meridian Canadian Open, Jan. 8-13, at the Civic Centre in North Battleford, Sask.

Tickets are available (and they certainly make for sweet stocking stuffers, just saying) at thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets.

Teams and triple knockout brackets for the fifth event and third major of our season will be announced later this week so stay tuned.

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