REGINA — It was a double win for Winnipeg at the Tour Challenge with Kerri Einarson and Jason Gunnlaugson capturing the Tier 2 titles Sunday.
Einarson earned her second Tier 2 title in three seasons defeating former Winnipeg native Chelsea Carey, now of Calgary, 7-4 in the women’s final.
There was a guaranteed Winnipeg victor on the men’s side as Gunnlaugson edged William Lyburn 8-7.
Both Team Einarson and Team Gunnlaugson now move up the ranks and join the elite at the next Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event, the Masters, running Oct. 24-29 in Lloydminster, Sask., with airfare and accommodations covered.
“It feels pretty awesome, even better than the first time just because to win Tier 2 again, that’s tough,” Einarson said. “We really came out firing right from the start. We had one bad game and that was it. We almost pinned all of our draws, that was our best draw-to-the-button, so I knew it was going to go well. It was a great week.”
Einarson, third Selena Kaatz, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish won the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 2 in 2015 and captured their first major at the Boost National last December.
Despite the Boost National win, a lacklustre 2016-17 season saw Team Einarson slip just outside the top rankings and they were looking to return.
“Last year we had a real struggle of a year, which was unfortunate because I knew we were better than that,” Einarson said. “We won a Slam and still weren’t in the Slams, so that’s how bad it was. It feels great to be back in them and hopefully we can do really well in Lloydminster.”
Gunnlaugson has played in several Grand Slam events previously with the likes of Reid Carruthers and Jim Cotter — reaching the 2012 Masters final with Team Cotter — and competed in the Tier 2 last season with Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Robbie Gordon.
It was a bit of a shuffle in the off-season as that trio moved on adding Pat Simmons at skip — and playing in the Tier 1 — while Gunnlaugson linked up with Alex Forrest, Ian McMillan and Connor Njegovan. Their skip last season was Matt Dunstone, who now plays second for Team Steve Laycock.
“We’ve been trying really hard,” Gunnlaugson said. “I know these guys have been battling for three years and slowly moving up the ranks to join them and now we get to play them at the elite level at the Slam and that’s what we’re all about. We’re excited.”
Both Einarson and Gunnlaugson finished with 6-1 records.
Carey opened the women’s final with the hammer, but gave up a steal in the second and settled for a single in the third to tie it 1-1. It was a missed opportunity for Einarson in the fourth as she had a draw for two but was thick on a guard and only got one.
The 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts winner Carey took two in the fifth to grab a 3-2 lead.
Einarson made a momentum-shifting double raise in the sixth to count three and pull back ahead 5-3.
— Grand Slam Curling (@grandslamcurl) September 10, 2017
“The double run was pretty much a game-changer,” Einarson said. “If I would have missed that we would probably have only been down two but it was pretty straight to make it. That’s one of my signature shots and I was more than happy. The girls were on board with me playing it and trusted my call.”
Carey was forced to hit and stick for a single in seven and Einarson sealed the deal with an open hit in eight.
Team Carey also includes third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Laine Peters.
Jason Gunnlaugson, Alex Forrest, Ian McMillan and Connor Njegovan celebrate with the Tour Challenge Tier 2 trophy. (Anil Mungal)
Meanwhile, Gunnlaugson made one of his trademark runbacks for a triple takeout on his first skip stone to set the table for an open tap for two with his last in the first end. Lyburn attempted an angle raise in the second but hit it the wrong way to concede a point.
Lyburn rebounded big time taking two points in the third, forced Gunnlaugson to one in four and hit to score four in the fifth to jump up 6-4.
Gunnlaugson bounced right back with a three count in the sixth to pull ahead again 7-6. Lyburn tied it in seven and Gunnlaugson scored the winning point in eight.
“It was good except it wasn’t the best throw,” Gunnlaugson said. “It was pretty much all Ian and Connor sweeping and they made it. It wasn’t the prettiest throw but it’s fun to win like that.”
“Just give them a chance and that’s all you hope for,” he added. “When you’ve got big guys like that who work out every day, that’s what they do it for.”
Lyburn, one of the “Original 18″ skips in the series, played this week with third Richard Daneault, second Jared Kolomaya and alternate Jim Coleman, who filled in for lead for Braden Zawada.
Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., and Edmonton’s Val Sweeting captured the Tour Challenge Tier 1 titles. Gushue cruised past Norway’s Steffen Walstad 9-1 while Sweeting completed a 6-5 comeback win over Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg to successfully retain the women’s championship.