Eight Ends: Why winning first GSOC title was Dunstone’s dream

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

Eight Ends is your weekly source for news, notes, insight and analysis from around the curling world. This week’s edition features takeaways from the Masters.

1st End: Matt Dunstone was overcome with emotion, on his knees weeping, after winning the Masters men’s title Sunday with an 8-5 victory over Brad Gushue.

The 24-year-old from Winnipeg is part of the new generation that has grown up watching the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling and seeing all-time greats like Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Jeff Stoughton, Wayne Middaugh — and yes even current players like Gushue and Mike McEwen — win title after title to add to their legacies.

“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.”

Dunstone himself was a prodigy of the sport winning two Canadian junior titles and two world junior bronze medals, but it’s not unusual in curling to see young skips struggle when they make the leap into men’s play and take years to find their footing before making it to the Grand Slam level. Dunstone is a generational talent though and continues to mature as a skip in just his second season with his Regina-based squad.

“He’s 24 years old and he’s just cool as a cucumber all week,” Team Dunstone third Braeden Moskowy said.

“It’s unbelievable to be that poised and that in control of his emotions at that age. He’s a special talent and one of the best to come along in a long time. I’m just damn happy he’s on my team. He’s a great player and what a week.”

Considering Dunstone was competing in his first final (and first semifinal the night before) in the series, it would have been understandable if nerves had gotten the better of him. Dunstone discussed after Saturday’s semifinal win about how he’s worked on calming himself down in high-pressure situations.

“I’ve been doing some exercises over the summer just to cool heart rate and that sort of thing in those moments because it’s been a part where I’ve struggled in my game a little bit,” Dunstone said. “It’s certainly helped me in moments like these. I think maybe even in this moment it’s just so surreal that I was oblivious to it all, so maybe I’ve got that going for me a little bit.”

The team put in a ton of work last season to lay down the foundation competing in 16 events, winning four of them, and it’s paying off as they’ve built themselves up to the next level now.

2nd End: Perhaps a little bit of credit should also go to Dunstone’s lucky hat of the week. While you can usually find a Miami Marlins lid on his dome, Dunstone was sporting a 1997 Calgary Brier leather cap during the Masters.

“I think I’m going to have to continue to keep wearing it,” Dunstone said with a smile. “I’ve got people on Twitter offering me their hats, their old Brier hats. I might have to take them up on that one.”

Dunstone explained the hat came from the manager of the Highland Curling Club in Regina.

“I think it was just lying around the club and he was looking to get rid of it,” he said. “Braeden said he knew a guy who likes to wear … hats that are kinda vintage and whatnot so it ended up in my hands and I decided to wear it for good luck. I can’t take it off until we’re on a two-game losing streak.”

3rd End: It seemed like a path of destiny for Dunstone, who was placed in quite possibly the toughest round-robin pool of the week (or ever) going up against former Grand Slam champions Gushue, McEwen, Brendan Bottcher and Niklas Edin. Even in the playoffs, Dunstone had to get by Brad Jacobs, Bruce Mouat and Gushue once more to be crowned the champion.

Facing Gushue in a Grand Slam final is like taking on Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. To be the man, you have to beat the man and in the past five years, Gushue has been the man in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling winning 10 of his 11 titles during that span. Sunday was his 20th career final to boot, too. That experience alone made Gushue a favourite to win as in a sport like curling knowledge is key for a skip.

Dunstone wishes he could make that many finals by the time his career is over. Perhaps one of the reasons Dunstone didn’t lose though is because he had nothing to lose.

“We just tried to have as much fun as we possibly could and enjoy this moment,” Dunstone said. “It’s so easy with the crowd to have some fun out here and that’s just what we tried to do.”

Not many people beat Gushue twice in one week, heck, even once was tough enough for them in the past.

“This team and even with (Reid) Carruthers, we didn’t beat Gushue much towards the end of our run,” Moskowy said. “With our team, we didn’t beat him once last year, not ever really came close, to be honest. That was definitely a focal point going into this year. Guys like Jacobs and Gushue that we didn’t beat last year, finding a way to play better against them and we did that …

“Obviously, they’re one of the best teams to ever play and to be able to knock them off in an environment like this that they’re so familiar with and so successful in, it just adds to it. It’s just an unbelievable feeling. I’m just so proud of the boys.”

4th End: Betcha can’t choose just one? I know I can’t among Dunstone’s top shots of the week, so here are three of them.

I already declared Dunstone’s runback triple takeout for two points and the win over McEwen in round-robin play as the shot of the year, even though the year had just started.

Then there was the unreal shot through a super tight port to hit for two in the semifinals against Mouat. No really, how did this not wreck?

And of course, the thin angle-raise takeout to score two points in the final against Gushue was just clutch curling.

5th End: It seemed like nothing could rattle Tracy Fleury this week on the way to capturing her first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title in the women’s division. Fleury’s team from East St. Paul, Man., topped Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura 7-5 in Sunday’s Masters women’s final.

Fleury has such a calm demeanour and just goes about her business making precision draw shots thanks to her top-notch touch game that even her peers praise. It’s cliche to say she puts her rocks in good spots (like getting pucks deep in hockey) but it’s so true. She does!

“So good,” Team Fleury second Liz Fyfe said. “She’s just an all-star so we know if she’s in that mode, we just let her do her thing and we’re going to be good.”

Pressure could have played a factor with Fleury, from nearby Sudbury, having the Northern Ontario crowd on her side but that only raised her game.

“I’d said if anything it pumped me up a little bit,” Fleury said. “It wasn’t a distraction. It helped our team.”

6th End: Fleury now tops the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date rankings (or at least should once they’re updated) showing consistency despite the fact her team’s lineup hasn’t been consistent.

Fyfe gave birth to her second daughter during the off-season and had been cycling in and out of the lineup to start the year with Taylor McDonald and Jill Officer filling in at events. It’s been a busy year already too as Team Fleury has played seven events now and has gone deep in all of them picking up a win at the Cargill Curling Training Centre Icebreaker and finishing runner-up at the AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic and Colonial Square Ladies Classic events.

“It’s been really nice to have some consistency even though we haven’t had consistency in our lineup with Jill playing a couple of times and me coming back and forth,” Fyfe said. “The girls have been adjusting so well and they’ve just played amazing the whole year so far, so it’s great to be able to finish this one off for sure.”

Fyfe, who has also won the BOOST National and two Tour Challenge Tier 2 titles, said she’s fitting in well again with the team and feeling really good.

“The girls have been super supportive and helpful,” she said. “It’s been an easy transition coming back.”

What makes winning Grand Slams extra special for Fyfe is her father, Vic Peters, was one of the “Original 18” skips and gave up opportunities to compete in provincial playdowns (and potential Briers and world championships) in order to help build and establish the series into what it has become today.

7th End: Yoshimura took the next step this week becoming the first from Japan to reach the final of a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event and only the second from Asia after South Korea’s Chang-Min Kim, who finished runner-up in the 2017 BOOST National men’s division.

It wasn’t an easy path to the final either with Yoshimura having to knock off the past two world champions in the playoffs. Yoshimura eliminated Jennifer Jones during the quarterfinals in the very same rink where she won gold in 2018 followed by reigning world champs Team Silvana Tirinzoni in the semis. That’s quite impressive for a team that was competing in the Tour Challenge Tier 2 division last season.

Speaking of the Tier 2, shoutout to last year’s champion Elena Stern for qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in a top-level Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event here. Stern was coming off of a breakout weekend on tour stunning 10-time Grand Slam champ Rachel Homan in the Canad Inns Women’s Classic final. (It was no fluke either: Stern defeated Homan here too in pool play.)

8th End: The title victories for Dunstone and Fleury qualified them for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. Too soon? It’s never too early as teams are looking to secure their spots ASAP so they’re not scrambling (like Humpty’s eggs) for a last-minute invite.

No one knows that better than Fleury, who will compete in her first Humpty’s Champions Cup. Despite consistently ranking within the top 10 in the world, Fleury hadn’t won a tournament as big as the Masters before in order to secure a spot.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Fleury said. “It’s always fun to try a new event and I’ve heard good things about it, so we’re excited.”

Dunstone joked about taking the rest of the year off now and just playing in that one.

“It’s super cool and to get it this way especially,” Dunstone said. “Last year we got in through the DEKALB (Superspiel), I mean that’s obviously not the same prestige as something like the Masters. To do it this way, in this fashion, make it even sweeter.”

The Humpty’s Champions Cup runs April 29 to May 3, 2020, in Olds, Alta. OK, now that sounds like I’m getting ahead of myself.

Extra End: That was fun, can’t wait for the next one? You’re in luck as the second stop of the 2019-20 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling trail is only a little over a week away.

The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge takes place Nov. 5-10 at the Pictou County Wellness Centre in Pictou County, N.S., with 62 teams in action. Tickets information is available at thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets. The crowd was sensational in North Bay and hopefully, Pictou County will be more of the same.

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