Eight Ends: Ultimate guide to the 2019 GSOC Champions Cup

Brendan Bottcher shoots a stone during the Players' Championship men's final on April 14, 2019, in Toronto. (Anil Mungal)

SASKATOON — It’s the final countdown for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season with the Humpty’s Champions Cup set to close out the 2018-19 campaign.

There was only one catch to qualify for this event: win a high-profile title over the course of the season. It sounds simple but with some teams hoarding multiple championships, it left a few notable teams on the outside. A team could do well on tour and finish within the top 10 in points for example but if they didn’t actually win anything, they’re out of luck.

However, this also allows more new teams to get their chance to shine such as the world junior champions.

“That’s just so cool,” said skip Kirk Muyres, who won the Tour Challenge Tier 2 title to get in. “It’s a great event, it’s a cool experience and it’s cool to be surrounded with 14 other teams that have won events to get there. They haven’t just competed and done pretty well at events, they’ve actually won big events. It’s pretty neat to get a group of 15 men’s and 15 women’s teams doing that.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the 2019 Humpty’s Champions Cup in Eight Ends before Tuesday’s opening draw.

1st End: A brief history of the Humpty’s Champions Cup

The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the newest Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event and has been held annually as the season finale in the series since its inception in 2016.

Fifteen men’s teams and 15 women’s teams compete in the Humpty’s Champions Cup. Both divisions are split into three groups for round-robin play with the top eight overall, regardless of pools, advancing to the playoffs.

A $250,000 combined purse, split equally between the men’s and women’s divisions, is on the line with the winning teams earning $40,000 each. The winners are also guaranteed spots in next year’s event to defend their titles.

Team Reid Carruthers captured the first men’s title defeating Team John Epping in a rare double extra end. (They really didn’t want the season to end.) Team Jennifer Jones topped Team Rachel Homan for the women’s title although in the two events since it’s been all Homan as her club has captured back-to-back titles.

The Brads have claimed the past two men’s titles with Team Brad Jacobs successful in 2017 and Team Brad Gushue winning it a year ago. Gushue’s victory also made history as his squad became the first to win all seven different event titles in the series.

The Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling season wraps up with the Humpty's Champions Cup in Saskatoon. Watch on Sportsnet starting April 25.

2nd End: What’s this about banning the tick shot?

The Humpty’s Champions Cup follows your standard Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling rules although there is a new one being tested out this year: a “no tick zone” for the eighth and extra ends.

What this means is during those ends tick shots cannot be performed on rocks sitting on the centre line.

The tick shot is a lead’s special weapon and one to get around the five-rock rule. Although guards cannot be removed from play during the first five rocks thrown, they can still be nudged, rubbed or pushed off to the side, thus technically keeping them in play but rendering them useless. With the no tick zone in place, it should make the final ends less predictable although we’ll just have to play it out and see how it goes.

Remember this is only a test run and the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling, a series founded by the players for the players, has always tinkered with the rules here and there. It’s how we ended up with thinking time and the five-rock rule. The no tick zone isn’t that new either as it was implemented during the Princess Auto Elite 10 although there it was applied to all ends.

This is what Glenn Howard, one of the Original 18 skips, had to say about the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling at the start of the season when the World Curling Federation approved the five-rock rule for all events: “We’re sort of like the guinea pigs but as players, we love it because if it works, great, our game gets better. But if it doesn’t? We trash it but you’ve got to try it. That’s what we did with the five-rock and everybody loves it.”

3rd End: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a super spare

Quite a few teams will have a spare in their lineups due to one reason or another but mainly because of the world mixed doubles championship taking place this week as well.

John Morris is filling in for John Shuster, Eve Muirhead will play for Anna Hasselborg, Jim Cotter takes over for Oskar Eriksson of Team Edin, Colton Lott jumps in for Brett Gallant of Team Gushue and Lori Olson-Johns subs for Jocelyn Peterman of Team Jones.

That’s not all with other spares on board including Laura Walker for Allison Flaxey.

It should make for some interesting matches and right off the bat too as the first draw features Team Hasselborg versus Team Flaxey, featuring neither Hasselborg nor Flaxey.

4th End: Bottcher, Einarson look to maintain momentum

When we last left our heroes, just over a week ago, Brendan Bottcher and Kerri Einarson captured the gold at the prestigious Players’ Championship in Toronto at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Bottcher picked up his second straight Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title after just winning the first of his career at the Meridian Canadian Open in January. Could a three-peat be in the cards?

“Now the two-time defending Slam champs so there’s going to be some expectations on us,” Bottcher said after defeating Team Koe 6-1 in the final. “Looking forward to coming out to Saskatoon in a few weeks and may as well play good in your last event before summer break.”

For Einarson it was her second career top-tier Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title but her first with her new squad of Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur.

“We’re obviously going to try and build on the momentum that we had here,” Birchard said after edging Team Hasselborg 5-4. “Every event you’ve got to start fresh and learn the ice and play well but I think we have high hopes going into the Champions Cup.”

5th End: Men’s division preview

Besides Team Bottcher, here are three other men’s teams to keep an eye on this week.

Team Koe: What a way to finish off their first season together: Pinty’s Cup, Brier, world silver medal … and Humpty’s Champions Cup? Koe came in second place at the Players’ Championship with barely any rest from the worlds and should be recharged and ready to go here.

Team Jacobs: It’s the last hoorah for this configuration after seven successful seasons with third Ryan Fry moving on. Don’t worry, there are no hard feelings here and you know they’ll want to cap the run that has seen them win Olympic gold, the Brier, world silver plus four Grand Slams on a high note.

Team Paterson: This season’s breakout men’s team has risen up to No. 9 in the world in an impressive run given it’s Ross Paterson’s first season as a skip on tour. They’ve already won one Grand Slam at the Boost National and reached the semifinals at the Players’ Championship. Don’t sleep on them anymore, they’re for real.

Men’s Teams Hometown What they won to qualify
Brendan Bottcher Edmonton, AB Meridian Canadian Open
Reid Carruthers Winnipeg, MB Stu Sells Toronto Tankard
Matt Dunstone Regina, SK DEKALB Superspiel
Niklas Edin Karlstad, SWE Swiss Cup Basel
John Epping Toronto, ON Canadian Beef Masters
Brad Gushue St. John’s, NL 2018 Humpty’s Champions Cup
Brad Jacobs Sault Ste. Marie, ON Tour Challenge (Tier 1)
Kevin Koe Calgary, AB 2018 Players’ Championship
Yuta Matsumura Sapporo, JPN Pacific-Asia Championship
Bruce Mouat Edinburgh, SCO European Championship
Kirk Muyres Saskatoon, SK Tour Challenge (Tier 2)
Ross Paterson Glasgow, SCO Boost National
Yannick Schwaller Bern, SUI Stu Sells Oakville Tankard
John Shuster Duluth, USA U.S. National Championship
Tyler Tardi Langley, BC World Junior Curling Championship

6th End: Women’s division preview

Besides Team Einarson here are three other women’s teams to keep an eye on this week.

Team Homan: The double defending champions were also runners-up the first year the Humpty’s Champions Cup was held in 2016. That should sound like they’re a lock to reach the final once again but they’re without second Joanne Courtney, who is taking it easy as she prepares to give birth to her first child. Jolene Campbell from Regina’s Team Kristen Streifel fills in. Remember though, Homan won this event in 2017 with Sarah Wilkes subbing for Courtney when she was away at the world mixed doubles. Also, lead Lisa Weagle is a master of the tick shot and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the no tick zone rule in the later stages.

Team Hasselborg: The Swedish squad has had a strong season with two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title wins and are coming off of a runner-up result at the Players’ Championship following a dominant week. They’re without skip Anna Hasselborg (see our 3rd End above) and in her place is four-time Grand Slam winner Eve Muirhead. It’ll be neat to see how they mesh.

Team Silvernagle: The home-province stars from North Battleford have already shined in their two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling appearances so far this season reaching the quarterfinals at the Meridian Canadian Open and the semifinals at the Players’ Championship. Hmm, do you sense a pattern? Could the final be the next step and in their backyard?

Women’s Teams Hometown What they won to qualify
Chelsea Carey Calgary, AB Scotties Tournament of Hearts
Kerri Einarson Gimli, MB Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic
Allison Flaxey Winnipeg, MB DEKALB Superspiel
Anna Hasselborg Sundbyberg, SWE Princess Auto Elite 10
Rachel Homan Ottawa, ON 2018 Humpty’s Champions Cup
Jennifer Jones Winnipeg, MB Canada Cup
Min Ji Kim Chuncheon City, KOR Pacific-Asia Championship
Alina Kovaleva Saint Petersburg, RUS Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic
Vlada Rumyanceva Moscow, RUS World Junior Curling Championship
Casey Scheidegger Lethbridge, AB HDF Insurance Shoot-Out
Robyn Silvernagle North Battleford, SK Red Deer Curling Classic
Jamie Sinclair Chaska, USA 2018 Players’ Championship
Elena Stern Oberwallis, SUI Tour Challenge (Tier 2)
Silvana Tirinzoni Aarau, SUI Schweizer Cup
Isabella Wrana Stockholm, SWE AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic

7th End: How to attend

The Humpty’s Champions Cup runs Tuesday afternoon through to Sunday at the new Merlis Belsher Place arena (2010 College Dr.) in Saskatoon.

Full-event and weekend passes are available plus tickets for individual draws. Visit thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets or call 306-966-1111.

For a printer-friendly version of the draw schedule, click here.

8th End: Broadcast schedule

If you can’t make it to Saskatoon, Sportsnet is your home for broadcast coverage beginning Thursday.

Online streaming for broadcast draws is available via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

Draw Eastern Time Pacific Time Watch
Thursday, April 25      
Round Robin 2 p.m. 11 a.m. Sportsnet
Round Robin 6 p.m 3 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Round Robin 10 p.m. 7 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Friday, April 26      
Round Robin 2 p.m. 11 a.m. Sportsnet
Round Robin 6 p.m 3 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Round Robin 10 p.m. 7 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Saturday, April 27      
Women’s Quarterfinals 2 p.m. 11 a.m. Sportsnet 360
Men’s Quarterfinals 6 p.m 3 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Men’s & Women’s Semifinals 10 p.m. 7 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Sunday, April 28      
Men’s Final Noon 9 a.m. Sportsnet 360
Women’s Final 4 p.m. 1 p.m. Sportsnet 360

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