Eight Ends: Top Grand Slam of Curling moments of the past decade

An emotional Matt Dunstone talks about winning his first Grand Slam title.

We’ve come a long, long way together. The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling started the 2010s as a four-event series with only one of them featuring both men’s and women’s divisions. Now it’s a six-event series with men’s and women’s divisions at all of them plus equal prize purses.

The memories during the decade have been plentiful but we’ve narrowed them down to the best of the best — in somewhat chronological order — for this week’s Eight Ends as we say later days to the 2010s and usher in the roaring (game) 20s.

1st End: Looking through the list of GSOC winners from the early days and names like Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Wayne Middaugh and Jeff Stoughton pop up frequently. All of them had already established their legacies prior to the series as Brier champions, however, the 2010s saw a generation of new stars rising up through the Slams.

Right from that first season of the decade, Mike McEwen captured his first couple titles with his second at the 2011 Canadian Open in Oshawa, Ont., earning its place here. Both McEwen and Glenn Howard entered the final undefeated and no surprise an extra end was required to solve this contest. McEwen needed sweepers Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld to hold the line, avoiding their own guard plus another Howard stone, to hit on the nose and stick for the winning point. The extra end also held up the broadcast of the NHL All-Star Game, so it has that going for it, too.

2nd End: Five times Kevin Koe had skipped his squad to a GSOC final and five times he headed home empty-handed. The Masters, in particular, proved to be a thorn in Koe’s side where three times, in three consecutive seasons, he finished runner-up. Sure enough, it was at the Masters in 2012 in Brantford, Ont., where Koe slew the beast and claimed his first championship in the series. Koe defeated Jim Cotter 7-5 in the men’s final.

3rd End: Eve Muirhead’s victory at the 2013 Players’ Championship at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto was historic on multiple accounts. It was the first all-European final in the series between Muirhead’s Scottish squad and Margaretha Sigfridsson’s Swedish side. Team Muirhead, who won the final 8-5, were the first non-Canadian champions in the series and at age 22, Muirhead became the youngest skip to win a title in the series, a record that still stands today. 

That also opened the floodgates as other European teams have now won Slam titles including Sweden’s Niklas Edin and Anna Hasselborg, Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz and Silvana Tirinzoni, as well as Muirhead’s Scottish compatriots Bruce Mouat and Ross Paterson. An international GSOC final was a novelty in 2013. Not so much anymore. 

4th End: All-time great Kevin Martin announced during the 2014 Players’ Championship in Summerside, P.E.I., it would be his last as he was stepping back from competitive curling and joining the broadcast booth. The 2010 Winter Games champion took on then-reigning Olympic gold medallist Brad Jacobs in the men’s final, but it wasn’t a passing of the torch moment as Martin went out on a high note. Martin was up by two in the final end and held the hammer coming home, however, Jacobs was threatening to steal sitting three stones. The Ol’ Bear had to make his favourite shot with his last, an out-turn draw, and Martin managed to concede just one point to hold on for the 4-3 victory and a record-extending 18th Grand Slam. 

5th End: Brad Gushue won the most GSOC titles during the decade with 11 and became the first — and so far only — to win titles at all six events. (Actually, seven if you count the now-defunct Elite 10, which Gushue was victorious at twice). Highlighting Gushue’s first at the National in January 2010 would be too obvious. Instead, we’re opting for his second, which came a few seasons later at the 2014 Masters in Selkirk, Man., and kick-started his team’s dominance through the second half of the decade in the series.

Gushue had finished runner-up in two GSOC events during the previous season but something was missing to get to the goal. Enter, or re-enter, third Mark Nichols, who came back to the squad after a couple of seasons with Team Stoughton. That switch also led to Brett Gallant sliding over to second where he’s become a formidable front-end pairing with lead Geoff Walker. Although Team McEwen entered the Masters on a scorching streak winning four tour events and upstaged the final with the greatest shot of the decade, it was Gushue who prevailed for the 8-6 victory. 

6th End: Brad Jacobs had won the 2013 Brier and 2014 Olympic gold but success in the Slams had been somewhat elusive to that point. Jacobs knew his team was on the right track and as long as they kept putting in the work, that first GSOC title would come. 

His first one happened to be the big one at the 2015 Players’ Championship in Toronto. Jacobs faced McEwen in the men’s final and although he didn’t have the hammer coming home tied, he put his opponent in a tough position to score. Team McEwen overswept their last shot and gave up the winning point on a steal. The team that had once joked they were the sport’s Phil Mickelson have now won six GSOC titles including the past two wrapping up this decade. 

7th End: All right, time for the odd and unusual moments. The all-new Tour Challenge and Champions Cup bookended 2015-16 and both featured bizarre finals in their inaugural season. The 2015 Tour Challenge in Paradise, N.L., saw a “fog bowl” women’s final between Team Homan and Team Tirinzoni. Rachel Homan threw her last through the haze and gave up a steal of two as Silvana Tirinzoni won 6-5 and captured her first GSOC title. Meanwhile, the 2016 Champions Cup men’s final went into a rare double extra end after Reid Carruthers hit and rolled out to blank the first OT period against John Epping. Take two went better for Carruthers, who drew for the 4-3 win and his first GSOC title as a skip.

Also falling into this category: the most viewed video on Sportsnet’s YouTube page. No, not just curling but for all sports. Gushue’s draw at the 2018 Elite 10 tied Carruthers’s rock. Neither stick nor laser could decide which stone was closer. Over five million views (and counting.)

8th End: When you think of the Players’ Championship women’s title, there’s one name that’s synonymous: Jennifer Jones. That’s especially so during this decade having appeared in five finals and winning the title three times. Any of the trio could make this list here. Her 2011 victory was her first with third Kaitlyn Lawes while the 2014 win capped a dream season that included Olympic gold. We’ll go with the latest in Toronto in 2017 as it marked Jones and second Jill Officer’s record sixth Players’ Championship women’s title overall. 

Extra End: When Sportsnet purchased the GSOC in 2012, it ushered in a new era for the series. You could also call it the Homan era. The first event under Sportsnet ownership — the 2012 Masters — also happened to be Rachel Homan’s first of a record 10 women’s titles during the decade. This entire list could have been composed solely of Homan moments from that first one to winning three in a row in 2015 to taking on men’s teams at the 2016 Elite 10, but we’ll settle with record No. 10 as the one to highlight, which also completed another trio of title wins. Homan ran through the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask., posting a perfect 6-0 record finishing with a 4-3 victory over Tirinzoni in the final. 

Homan had a moment of reflection after the title victory: “We’ve worked really hard this year. Obviously, a little bit disappointing after the Olympics. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to do for Canada, so we’re working as hard as ever and want to keep pushing the game and keep pushing ourselves.”

Double Extra End: What? The seventh end should have been the harbinger to expect this one (i.e. we couldn’t narrow them down to just eight or nine).

Everyone loves a classic underdog sports story and how about the one that unfolded at the 2019 Masters in North Bay, Ont., for Team Dunstone. The Regina rink faced nothing but Slam champions on the road to their first title and overcame the odds. Matt Dunstone was the human highlight reel with unreal shots all week, including this one …

… this one …

… and this one during the final against Gushue.

The 24-year-old Dunstone dropped to his knees at the conclusion of the game and his raw display of emotion highlights how the current generation of curlers grew up with aspirations of winning Slams. 

“You grow up watching K-Mart, Glenn, McEwen, Stoughty, Middaugh, all those guys just dominate these things and just to play in them, let alone do this and be a part of those guys in history, no words,” Dunstone said after the game. “It’s a dream.”

We’ve come a long way indeed.

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