Eight Ends: Top moments of 2018-19 GSOC season

Ben Hebert gets the curlers off the ice and onto the course in Saskatoon during the Humpty's Champions Cup.

Historic wins, some epic triple title runs and new teams emerging on top highlighted a memorable Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.

To close out the 2018-19 campaign, here are the top moments from the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling year in Eight Ends.

Just a friendly reminder: Only 24 more weeks to go until the 2019-20 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season starts with the Canadian Beef Masters, Oct. 22-27, in North Bay, Ont.

1st End: The Rachel Homan redemption/revenge tour

What a season Rachel Homan and her Ottawa-based team had. Whether you want to classify it as redemption or revenge for Canada’s Olympic Team, Homan returned to dominance winning three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles in a row while posting an impressive 19-1 win-loss record through the Tour Challenge Tier 1, Boost National and Meridian Canadian Open.

Even tacking on the Humpty’s Champions Cup title win from the tail end of the previous season and that’s four titles in six events with five finals appearances in total. Can you say wow?

The unbelievable part of it all (as if it wasn’t mind-blowing enough) is Homan and second Joanne Courtney played through much of the season while they were both pregnant.

2nd End: Hasselborg takes two titles to start GSOC campaign

It wasn’t a matter of if but when Team Anna Hasselborg would capture their first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship. The reigning Olympic gold medallists and world silver medallists were simply too good not to have won a Grand Slam and that crowning moment kicked off our 2018-19 season in historic fashion at the first-ever (and only) Princess Auto Elite 10 women’s tournament in September.

Hasselborg rolled right through the field finishing with an unblemished 6-0 record and capped things off with a commanding 4-and-2 match-play victory (four ends won to none in six ends) over Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.

Check out this trio (or tre kronor) of hard-hitting shots that best displayed Hasselborg’s handle of the match-play format.

While Team Hasselborg owned the Princess Auto Elite 10, their run to the Canadian Beef Masters title the following month was a much different story. Hasselborg had to dig out of the tiebreaker stage — against Team Kerri Einarson no less — and even then they were down by two points against Team Rachel Homan in the final frame of the championship game. Homan left an opening to hit for the winning three and of course, Hasselborg went for it and pulled it off.

Team Hasselborg also posted a runner-up finish at the Players’ Championship (losing to Einarson in an extra end) and went on a solid run to the semifinals at the Humpty’s Champions Cup with Scottish skip Eve Muirhead filling in for Hasselborg, who was busy striking for gold at the world mixed doubles championship.

3rd End: Team Einarson experiment finds right chemistry

Could an “all-skip squad” work? Why yes it can. Kerri Einarson completely revamped her Gimli, Man., roster this season bringing in former skips Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, and Briane Meilleur to play third, second and lead, respectively.

Not only did they embrace the new roles they excelled reaching three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling finals and winning the hardest one of them all, the Players’ Championship, in April. Altogether on tour, they competed in 10 finals (an amazing accomplishment for any team) and captured five titles to finish the season ranked second on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit.

4th End: Top marks for Tirinzoni

Like Einarson, Tirinzoni added some former skips to her roster bringing in Alina Paetz to toss fourth stones (Tirinzoni slid over to third) and Melanie Barbezat at lead. The parallels between the two teams don’t end there as Tirinzoni also found chemistry quickly making it to the final at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard in September (losing to Einarson). Coincidentally, the two met again in our season finale Humpty’s Champions Cup with Tirinzoni coming out on top that time.

Tirinzoni also finished runner-up at two other Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events earlier in the season — the Princess Auto Elite 10 and Meridian Canadian Open — and won a little event called the world championship. It’ll be hard for Tirinzoni to top a season like this one but her team has the potential as dangerous as that sounds.

5th End: Bottcher emerges as serious contender

Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher had never played in a Grand Slam final prior to this season. Now they’ve been in four of them finishing runner-up at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and winning three consecutive titles at the Meridian Canadian Open, Players’ Championship and Humpty’s Champions Cup. Those were also the only four Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events Team Bottcher competed in this season.

Winning three Grand Slam titles in a row is something only three other skips have done: Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard and Homan. That’s some company Bottcher keeps now.

Team Bottcher came out firing this season and the team has now arrived as legit contenders each and every week as they reached that next level.

6th End: Koe’s consistency key to claim Pinty’s Cup

Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe captured the Pinty’s Cup for the first time in the skip’s career and it was also the first time a men’s team won the season championship in the series without winning a title. Consistency was the key as other teams either had one off-week or struggled to go deep into events while Koe never hit that lull.

Koe and lead Ben Hebert were the only returning members from last season’s Canadian Olympic Team with third B.J. Neufeld and second Colton Flasch joining the meat of the order. Altogether they finished runner-up three times in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series, but let’s not forget they also finished second at the Canada Cup, won the inaugural Curling World Cup, claimed the Brier and earned silver at the world championship. For a new team that’s quite the haul and certainly exceeded expectations placed on them entering the season.

Compare that to how Koe’s super team from the previous Olympic cycle performed in their first season together — zero Grand Slam finals and missed the Brier medal round — and they’ve definitely picked things up at a faster pace.

7th End: End of the line for Fry & Team Jacobs

It was a roller-coaster season for Team Brad Jacobs as the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., crew experienced plenty of highs and lows.

Jacobs went winless through the Canadian Beef Masters at 0-4 and almost stretched the losing streak into the Tour Challenge until they escaped with a win over Bottcher to start round-robin play. That lit the fire and Jacobs went on a tear. The two teams met in a rematch in the final where Jacobs took a risk giving up the go-ahead point in seven to retain the hammer coming home, but it paid off as he was able to score the winning deuce.

Then came the Ryan Fry incident. In case you’ve been living under a (curling) rock, Fry spared on Jamie Koe’s team during the Red Deer Curling Classic in mid-November. The team was kicked out of the event due to what the World Curling Tour deemed as unsportsmanlike behaviour with reportedly multiple brooms broken and damage done to the locker room.

Fry took a two-event leave of absence and Team Jacobs relied on Marc Kennedy for the Canada Cup where they maintained the momentum to win the title and reached the quarterfinals of the Boost National with Matt Wozniak in the lineup the following week.

Fry returned to the fold in the New Year and Team Jacobs added three more quarterfinal finishes in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. They announced in March that Fry was moving on (eventually joining John Epping’s team) while Kennedy is coming on board full-time. That closed the book on a seven-year run for the club that captured Olympic gold, one Brier and four Grand Slams.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new-look Team Jacobs gels over the course of the season given their one-week success while Fry gets a fresh start with his longtime friend Epping.

8th End: Shot of the season

We have to give it to Jacobs for pulling off this clutch last shot in the eighth end to get the equalizer against Team Niklas Edin during the Boost National. Jacobs ended up stealing the extra end to score the 7-5 win.

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