It was a day for the veteran skips to shine at the provincial curling championships.
Michelle Englot and Shannon Kleibrink came through to capture their provincial playdowns Sunday. Englot outlasted Darcy Robertson 8-6 in the Manitoba final while Kleibrink slipped past Val Sweeting 6-5 in Alberta.
Englot, winner of eight provincial titles, and Kleibrink, now a five-time Alberta champ, and off to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts running Feb. 18-26 in St. Catharines, Ont.
The host province hosts its championship this week to wrap up the Tournament of Hearts field. Ontario will also crown its men’s champion heading to the Tim Hortons Brier — March 4-12 in St. John’s, N.L. — as those playdowns are heating up.
1st End: Ontario women’s preview
Ottawa’s Rachel Homan will be looking for redemption at the Ontario Scotties in Cobourg.
Homan was in the midst of a banner year last season cleaning up on the tour circuit with eight title wins, but fell just short in the provincial final to Jenn Hanna, who is not defending the crown after stepping back from competitive curling.
Ranked No. 4 in the world on the year-to-date rankings, Homan should still be considered the front-runner, but the competition will be steep with Allison Flaxey of Caledon and Jacqueline Harrison of Mississauga both stepping up their game this season.
Flaxey, No. 5 on the year-to-date, claimed her first career Grand Slam title defeating Homan in the WFG Masters final in October and Harrison, the Tour Challenge Tier 2 victor, scored a pair of wins over Homan during the Meridian Canadian Open earlier this month.
Sherry Middaugh has also had a solid season with three tour title victories and could continue the veteran skip theme we saw elsewhere.
Scotties Tournament of Hearts teams
|New Brunswick||Melissa Adams|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||Stacie Curtis|
|Northern Ontario||Krista McCarville|
|Nova Scotia||Mary Mattatall|
|Ontario||Jan. 30 – Feb. 5|
|Northwest Territories||Kerry Galusha|
Note: New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon will play in a pre-qualifying tournament Feb. 16-18.
2nd End: Ontario men’s preview
Action is already underway in Cobourg on the men’s side for the Recharge with Milk Tankard.
John Epping, Scott Bailey, Mark Bice and defending champion Glenn Howard have jumped out of the gate with 2-0 records.
Epping enters as the top-ranked skip on the World Curling Tour and with consecutive runner-up finishes at provincials his time to finally win it has to be just around the corner. Howard surged to win it all last year and should be considered a contender as usual.
Tour Challenge Tier 2 winner Greg Balsdon sits at 0-2 to start, but there’s still time to turn things around.
Tim Hortons Brier teams
|New Brunswick||Feb. 8-12|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||Brad Gushue|
|Northern Ontario||Feb. 8-12|
|Nova Scotia||Jamie Murphy|
|Ontario||Jan. 30 – Feb. 5|
|Northwest Territories||Jamie Koe|
Note: Nova Scotia, Nunavut, P.E.I., and Yukon will play in a pre-qualifying tournament.
3rd End: Englot takes Manitoba; Jones upset in semifinal
Englot will make her ninth appearance at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but her first for Manitoba.
The Regina native Englot represented her home province Saskatchewan at the national championship eight times — seven as skip and once as an alternate — before joining third Kate Cameron, second Leslie Wilson-Westcott and lead Raunora Westcott in Winnipeg this season. They clicked together instantly and made it to the final at the Tour Challenge in November, their first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event as a group.
The biggest surprise of the event though was Jennifer Jones not reaching the championship game after losing to Robertson in the semifinal. Jones gave up a steal of two in the first end with a heavy final throw and the team just couldn’t get on track as they struggled with their shots throughout the game.
Whether wearing the Manitoba or Team Canada colours, Jones has been a staple at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the past decade with the exception of 2014 when she was busy winning gold at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s a remarkable run of consistency especially when you consider the level of competition Jones faces not just at the national level, but also in her home province.
Jones’s season is far from over with the WestJet Players’ Championship and Humpty’s Champions Cup on her radar.
4th End: Kleibrink-Nedohin combo comes out on top in Alberta
The 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Kleibrink returns to the national championship for the fifth time although it’ll be the Tournament of Hearts debut for teammates Lisa Eyamie, Sarah Wilkes and Alison Thiessen.
Team Kleibrink finished with a 5-0 record in the event including two wins over Sweeting in the playoffs. It’s impressive considering a back problem kept Kleibrink on the sidelines for a couple games during the triple knockout round and not-quite-retired Heather Nedohin subbed in to lead the team to victories.
Depending on how Kleibrink holds up, we may see Nedohin come off of the bench again in St. Catharines.
4th End Break: Gotta See It
Check out this great runback by Cameron in the 10th end to sit two and set the table for Team Englot’s Manitoba Scotties victory.
5th End: Gushue sweeps into hometown Brier
It’s official: Brad Gushue will represent Newfoundland and Labrador on home ice at the Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s.
Gushue captured his 14th Tankard title in 15 years with a 6-2 victory over Adam Boland in Saturday’s final. Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker posted an undefeated 5-0 record at their home rink, the Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club.
It may look odd in retrospect that Gushue approached provincials cautiously (see the seventh end from last week), but given how we saw favourites fall on the women’s side Sunday, it doesn’t seem so silly after all.
6th End: O Canada
Tyler Tardi and Kristen Streifel will play for Canada at the world junior curling championships next month in South Korea.
Tardi’s B.C. team beat Ontario’s Matthew Hall 9-7 in the Canadian junior men’s final Sunday while Streifel of Alberta stole two in the 10th to top Ontario’s Hailey Armstrong 5-3.
A pair of Northern Ontario teams took home the bronze medals with Tanner Horgan on the junior men’s side and Krysta Burns for the junior women’s.
Meanwhile, Edmonton’s Kelsey Rocque and Aaron Squires of St. Thomas, Ont., began their quests for gold Monday at the Winter Universiade in Kazakhstan. Rocque’s University of Alberta team and Squires’s squad from Wilfrid Laurier University earned the right to represent Canada by capturing the CIS (now U Sports) curling titles last year.
Rocque rebounded from an 8-6 extra-end loss to China in her first game to beat Germany 6-2 and Squires crushed Kazakhstan 7-1 in his lone match of the day.
7th End: Humpty’s Champions Cup spots to be determined
Expect an announcement later this week for the Humpty’s Champions Cup as the first batch of World Curling Tour event winners will receive their invites Feb. 1.
Some curlers have been anticipating their spot since taking their titles, like Ben Hebert when Team Koe was victorious at the AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic back in September.
— Ben Hebert (@BennyHeebz) September 18, 2016
The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the seventh and final event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and runs April 25-30 at WinSport Arena in Calgary. Click here to see the list of teams that have already qualified including recent Meridian Canadian Open winners Gushue and Casey Scheidegger.
8th End: Can’t wait ’til next year
It’s not too early to start thinking about next season.
The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling announced late last week the Tour Challenge, the series’ opening event of 2017-18, will take place at the Co-operators Centre in Regina from Sept. 5-10. Tickets will be on sale starting Feb. 3 at Ticketmaster.