Eight Ends: Ultimate guide to the GSOC Players’ Championship

Sweden's Niklas Edin shoots a stone during the 2018 Meridian Canadian Open in Camrose, Alta. (Anil Mungal)

Toronto becomes the centre of the curling universe this week for the 26th running of the prestigious Players’ Championship.

Reigning world champions Niklas Edin of Sweden and Canada’s Jennifer Jones headline the men’s and women’s fields, respectively, and both also happen to be the defending champs here as well.

Here’s everything you need to know in Eight Ends to get you ready for the Players’ Championship before Tuesday night’s opening draw at Mattamy Athletic Centre.

1st End: What is the Players’ Championship?

The Players’ Championship is crown jewel tournament in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. What makes it so special is it actually predates the series having been held every season since the start of the World Curling Tour in 1993. When the GSOC was created in 2001-02, the Masters, National and Canadian Open joined the Players’ Championship but the latter remained the pinnacle event.

It’s also arguably the toughest tournament to win on the tour featuring straight up 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams based on the WCT’s year-to-date rankings. No one snuck in through the back door here! Everyone has had a stellar season and aims to add to their total.

Teams are split into two pools of six for round-robin play with the top eight overall advancing to the weekend playoffs.

2nd End: GSOC Bonus Cup also up for grabs

On top of the $300,000 purse, the GSOC’s Bonus Cup is on the line too.

The Bonus Cup is awarded to the men’s and women’s season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship with $75,000 for each winner. Should a team take both the Players’ Championship and the Bonus Cup they’ll be in for a huge payday.

Brad Gushue’s crew has been the front-runner on the men’s side all year, leading with 39 points, jumping out of the gate winning the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Masters titles back-to-back. Mike McEwen, who missed the Tour Challenge Tier 1, has chipped away at Gushue’s lead and sits in second place just eight points back. Strong seasons from Edin, Kevin Koe and Brad Jacobs have also kept their teams in the hunt.

Meanwhile, Jones tops the women’s side (38 points) thanks to her wins at the Masters and Boost National, which helped her team establish a huge 19-point lead. Chelsea Carey climbed into second place with her Meridian Canadian Open title win in January. Reigning Bonus Cup champion Val Sweeting is fourth but is idle here as her team did not make the cut.

Keep in mind roughly double points are available at the Players’ Championship with 25 for the winner, so it’ll likely come down to the wire.

3rd End: About the venue

This is the fifth time in six years Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre has hosted the Players’ Championship and the tournament has built quite a legacy at the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens.

History was made right from the start of the sequence in 2013 with Eve Muirhead becoming the youngest skip to win a title in the series at age 22. Muirhead captured additional Players’ Championship women’s titles back-to-back here in 2015 and 2016.

Brad Jacobs claimed his first Grand Slam at the Players’ Championship in 2015. The following year was the Battle of the Brads with Gushue defeating Jacobs for the crown. The title completed a career Grand Slam (win all four majors) for Team Gushue.

Edin pulled off the double last season earning the Players’ Championship and Bonus Cup men’s titles. Jones has stamped her name all over the Players’ Championship trophy and won her sixth a year ago.

4th End: Men’s division preview

One of the names we didn’t mention in the previous end but has some unfinished business to take care of in Toronto is McEwen, who has finished runner-up three times with steals playing a factor in a pair of those losses.

McEwen has momentum coming off of his seventh GSOC title win last month at the Princess Auto Elite 10 in his hometown of Winnipeg. A Players’ Championship victory would also move McEwen into the exclusive career Grand Slam group with Gushue, Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Wayne Middaugh and Jeff Stoughton. That’s some company to keep.

We say this often but there really is no rest for the world’s best. All three medallists from the world men’s championship — Edin, Gushue and Bruce Mouat — will be back in action here. Will they ride the wave or will fatigue finally set in and have them come crashing down? You’ll just have to tune in to find out.

American John Shuster also takes a break from his Olympic gold medal tour to get back to business. Team Shuster recently threw out the opening pitches at a Minnesota Twins game and if you didn’t see it, well, let’s just say it’s best they stick to curling.

Pool A Pool B
Niklas Edin Brad Gushue
Mike McEwen Kevin Koe
Brad Jacobs Brendan Bottcher
Jason Gunnlaugson Reid Carruthers
Bruce Mouat John Epping
Kyle Smith John Shuster

5th End: Women’s division preview

Can Jones make it seven? The defending champion and Bonus Cup leader has a lot on the line here. It could also be a triple crown of sorts for third Kaitlyn Lawes, who captured Olympic gold two months ago at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in mixed doubles with John Morris before rejoining Team Jones for the worlds.

Speaking of the Olympics, women’s gold medallist Anna Hasselborg of Sweden, who earned silver at the worlds too, is still seeking her first Grand Slam and winning the Players’ Championship would just put her dream season over the top.

South Korea’s EunJung Kim and the “Garlic Girls”, who earned silver as the hosts in Pyeongchang, are also on the lookout for a first Grand Slam title.

The Players’ Championship is the first time we’ll see Canada’s Rachel Homan since the Winter Olympics. Team Homan has won the other three majors in the series and could become the first women’s club to complete a career Grand Slam.

Pool A Pool B
Jennifer Jones Anna Hasselborg
Eve Muirhead Chelsea Carey
Rachel Homan Kerri Einarson
EunJung Kim Silvana Tirinzoni
Nina Roth Satsuki Fujisawa
Kelsey Rocque Jamie Sinclair

6th End: Super spares

Guess who’s back, back again? Stoughty’s back, tell a friend! That’s right, Stoughton returns at third and will call the game for ex-teammate Reid Carruthers. The all-time great stepped back from competitive curling coincidentally at the Players’ Championship here in 2015. Stoughton also filled in last month during the Princess Auto Elite 10 with third Braeden Moskowy leaving Team Carruthers and finishing the year on the DL due to a fractured ankle.

Team Rocque has also mixed things up as fourth Kelsey Rocque couldn’t make the trip. Laura Crocker, who called the shots from third, moves up to fourth stones with third Kendra Lilly from Thunder Bay’s Team McCarville getting the call to pinch-hit as a sub.

7th End: Last road to the Humpty’s Champions Cup

Winning the Players’ Championship also secures a spot in the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. Considering it’s also the last tournament of the Olympic cycle, and thus the last time together for some teams, it’ll be a swan song for many.

You can see the list of teams who have already punched their tickets by clicking here. Most of the Players’ Championship teams already have earned berths (or in Shuster’s case, he’ll be unable to attend as he’s off to visit the White House) but someone like Kyle Smith or John Epping is still in the chase and wouldn’t it be something if one of them, or both, ended up in the final? Hey, we’re not ruling anything out.

If there’s a repeat at the Players’ Championship, the final spots at the Humpty’s Champions Cup will go to winners of the next-ranked World Curling Tour events.

8th End: How to watch the Players’ Championship — Tickets & TV

Nothing beats the live experience especially at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre with that impressive Maple Leaf Gardens. Plus, the Pinty’s pub and grill zone is the premier fan experience watching the action up close at ice level and at no additional cost. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 1-844-389-4754 or online by clicking here.

To see the list of matches and times, click here for the draw schedule.

If you can’t make it Toronto, TV coverage begins Thursday on Sportsnet at Noon ET. All televised draws are also available online with streaming available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).

Date Draw Eastern Time Pacific Time Channel
Thursday, April 12 Round Robin 12:00 p.m. 9:00 a.m. Sportsnet
  Round Robin 4:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. Sportsnet
  Round Robin 8:00 p.m. 5:00 p.m. Sportsnet NOW
Friday, April 13 Round Robin 12:00 p.m. 9:00 a.m. Sportsnet
  Round Robin 4:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. Sportsnet
  Round Robin 8:00 p.m. 5:00 p.m. Sportsnet NOW
Saturday, April 14 Men’s Quarterfinals 11:30 a.m. 8:30 a.m. Sportsnet
  Women’s Quarterfinals 3:30 p.m. 12:30 p.m. CBC
  Men’s & Women’s Semifinals 7:30 p.m. 4:30 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Sunday, April 15 Men’s Final 1:00 p.m. 10:00 a.m. CBC
  Women’s Final 5:00 p.m. 2:00 p.m. Sportsnet ONE

Note: Broadcast schedule subject to change.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.