Eight Ends: Homan, Hasselborg highlight early season takeaways

Jacobs takes two to make a thing go right as his team captures the Tour Challenge Tier 1 men's title with a 6-5 victory over Team Bottcher.

It might be hard to believe but there are already three (really four) events in the books for the 2018-19 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and only four more to come.

Still skeptical? Well, we’re also halfway through the race for the Pinty’s Cup, awarded to the overall season champions in the series.

The time flies by when you’re having fun and we’ve sure had a lot of that with plenty of exciting action on tour. In case you’re just joining us, this week’s Eight Ends will be your opportunity to catch up on the key moments so far this season.

1st End: Princess Auto Elite 10 Women’s Division (Chatham-Kent, Ont.)

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season started on a historical note with a women’s division added to September’s Princess Auto Elite 10 for the first time. This brought parity to the series with all events now including both men’s and women’s fields and equal prize money.

Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg entered the record books as the event’s first women’s champions with authority by finishing with an undefeated 6-0 win-loss record. Hasselborg cruised to the title following a 4-and-2 victory (four ends to none in six ends) over Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.

“This has been a goal for us since we came into the Slam series,” Hasselborg said. “To do it this early in the season really proves that we are on the right track. I’m just so happy with how the team performed today. We played the best game so far.”

The reigning Olympic gold medallists relied on coach Wayne Middaugh, a winner of four major skins events, to help with strategy for the match-play tournament where points were counted by scoring either two or more rocks with the hammer or stealing at least one rock without the hammer.

It was also the first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title for Team Hasselborg and the first for a women’s club from Sweden. That’s a lot of firsts.

2nd End: Princess Auto Elite 10 Men’s Division (Chatham-Kent, Ont.)

Rusty or relaxed? That was the question for Team Brad Gushue as the St. John’s, N.L., crew made their season debut at the Princess Auto Elite 10 while their competition had hit the road early (and often) elsewhere on the World Curling Tour.

As it turned out, Team Gushue, who finished last season as the Humpty’s Champions Cup victors, picked up right where they left off in the winner’s circle capturing the Princess Auto Elite 10 title for a second time. It was also the 11th title in the series for the skip.

Gushue admitted he had “low expectations” entering the event as he and third Mark Nichols had only stepped onto the ice a week prior and even had booked their flights home early to St. John’s, N.L.

“To come out here and win against teams that have played two, three or four times, it’s good but a little bit of luck,” he said. “We had some fortunate misses against us and also made some key shots too.”

Meanwhile, the retooled Team Reid Carruthers – with “frenemy” Mike McEwen now at fourth – went on a roll winning five consecutive games to reach the final. The format seems to bring out the best in McEwen, who had skipped his former squad to the Princess Auto Elite 10 title twice.

Gushue jumped out a 2UP lead thanks to some steals off of uncharacteristic misses from McEwen. Team Carruthers scored in the seventh to get on the board and close within one but it was too little too late as Gushue hung on.

3rd End: Canadian Beef Masters Women’s Division (Truro, N.S.)

It took Team Hasselborg a few seasons to win their first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title but only a few weeks to win their second.

Hasselborg made it back-to-back championships to start the GSOC season. While Hasselborg went undefeated through the Princess Auto Elite 10, this one was a different story requiring a detour through the last chance tiebreaker stage and winning four straight.

Team Hasselborg took on long-time rivals Team Rachel Homan for the Canadian Beef Masters women’s title in October. Homan was up by two without the hammer in the final frame but left the door open for Hasselborg to hit and score three points to win 8-7.

“It almost felt as good as winning the Olympics,” Team Hasselborg third Sara McManus said. “Almost because winning two Slams is huge for us. It was huge winning the last one so this was amazing, especially because we did a great job bouncing back from the tiebreakers and just going straight up. That was so much fun.”

World junior champions Team Kaitlyn Jones received a sponsor’s exemption and the Halifax club put on a show for their local fans finishing pool play with a 3-1 record (including wins over Homan, Tirinzoni and Team Kerri Einarson) and qualifying for the playoffs. Although their run ended in the quarterfinals against Team Chelsea Carey, the young squad proved they belonged.

4th End: Canadian Beef Masters Men’s Division (Truro, N.S.)

The previous GSOC title Brent Laing and Craig Savill had captured together was the Masters during their final season on Team Glenn Howard. Although their paths split during the previous Olympic cycle, the front-end duo reunited their season on John Epping’s team.

Perhaps it was fitting now that they’re reunited they were able to claim the Masters once more winning it for a record-extending seventh time. Epping, who finished with an overall 6-1 record, fended off Team Kevin Koe 7-4.

While the women’s final featured two teams that kept their lineups intact from the previous season, both men’s finalists made changes over the summer. On top of Epping’s switch up front, Koe brought in third B.J. Neufeld (from Team McEwen) and second Colton Flasch (who coincidentally took over for Laing).

Team Koe trailed 5-1 after five but you can never count them out as they closed the gap with a deuce in six followed by a single steal in seven. The comeback wasn’t meant to be, however, as their final rock picked and allowed Epping to tack on two more points.

Koe also made a completely ridiculous buzzer-beater shot against Team Bruce Mouat in order to secure his team’s spot in the final.

5th End: Tour Challenge Tier 1 Women’s Division (Thunder Bay, Ont.)

There would be no three-peat for Team Hasselborg as they sat this one out to prepare for the European Championships. Instead, Team Homan finished the job from their runner-up result at the last event to take this month’s Tour Challenge.

Both Team Homan and Team Tracy Fleury entered the championship game with unblemished records but there could only be one team to finish undefeated. Homan doubled up on Fleury 8-4 to win her eighth career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship.

It’s quite the calendar turnaround as at this point last season Homan had missed the playoffs in consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events. Now the Ottawa-based club has been in two finals with a title win. Throw in their Humpty’s Champions Cup victory to close out last season and that’s two titles and three finals through the past four GSOC tournaments. Most impressive.

“After last season, we really tried to come into this season and play tough but also enjoy it out here,” Team Homan third Emma Miskew said. “I mean, we’re really lucky. The last two events, we’re like, we’re in the playoffs, and then we didn’t have to go backs against the wall in our last game. We’re so grateful that we’re in this position. It’s been a lot of just enjoying the moment and trying our best to get better. It feels really good.”

The shot of the event came during the semifinals with Miskew eliminating three Team Nina Roth stones during an extra end that cleared the deck for her skip to deliver the winner.

6th End: Tour Challenge Tier 1 Men’s Division (Thunder Bay, Ont.)

Team Brad Jacobs had a miserable run through the Canadian Beef Masters finishing winless at 0-4. They almost got off on the wrong foot in their opening match at the Tour Challenge against Team Brendan Bottcher without the hammer in the eighth and the score tied. Bottcher had the double takeout lined up but missed the back one and gave up a steal as Jacobs escaped with the victory.

That snapped the skid and put the crew from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on the right track as they were able to complete the turnaround to a title victory in Northern Ontario. Fear the moose, indeed.

Sure enough, Jacobs and Bottcher met once more in the final. Although Jacobs gave up a point in the seventh to trail by one, he held the all-important final shot and made no mistake to score two for the 6-5 win.

Jacobs gave a ton of credit to mental coach Adam Kingsbury, who joined the team for a trial run during the event and played an integral role putting them in the right frame of mind for victory.

“I think I speak for all four of us when I say that he was amazing this week,” Jacobs said. “He really helped us out in a lot of ways, especially with patience, our thinking, our overall mindset, our mental toughness.

“He’s got a lot of experience in the field of psychology and that’s really where we need the most help. It’s not physically, it’s not how we throw the rock, it’s all mindset. He was awesome this week and we can really attribute this victory here a lot to Adam.”

Of course, we default to Koe for the division’s best shot even if it wasn’t quite enough to defeat Team Peter de Cruz during the quarterfinals.

7th End: Tour Challenge Tier 2 Women’s Division (Thunder Bay, Ont.)

Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura had collected the most Order of Merit points to date among the Tier 2 teams and looked to be the favourite entering the event with a promotion to the elite ranks up for grabs. They proved to be a good pick as they rolled through pool play at 4-0 and kept the winning streaking running into the final.

However, Switzerland’s Team Elena Stern managed to upend Yoshimura 6-5 in the final with fourth Briar Huerlimann drawing for the winning point in the final frame.

Team Stern earned a spot in the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open kicking off the New Year in North Battleford, Sask. Stern’s airfare and accommodations are also provided.

8th End: Tour Challenge Tier 2 Men’s Division (Thunder Bay, Ont.)

“Captain” Kirk Muyres is making his skip debut this season but based on his team’s results over the past few weeks you’d be hard-pressed to guess that. Team Muyres posted consecutive runner-up results on the World Curling Tour and dialled it up one more notch to win the Tour Challenge Tier 2.

Team Muyres defeated Team Scott McDonald of Kingston, Ont., 8-3 in the final to complete their 7-0 run of the table.

That also earned the Saskatoon squad a berth to the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open and they’re definitely fired up to play on home-province ice.

“This one’s marked on the calendar,” Muyres said. “We want to play a Slam in Saskatchewan any time we can and it’s only about an hour from home. To get to play one there is awesome. We obviously can’t wait and hopefully, we can put on a good show there.”

Extra End: Up next

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season resumes with the Boost National running Dec. 11-16 in Conception Bay South, N.L.

Teams and pools are set, click here to check out the field.

Although full-event passes sold out within days, a limited number of standing room tickets will be available for purchase Thursday at Noon NT at mileonecentre.com or by calling 709-576-7657.

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