Upsets, emotional wins highlight curling provincials

Team Jenn Hanna delivers a stunner, beating Rachel Homan's team to advance to the Scotties, where they will represent Ontario.

What a thrilling day of curling.

Provincial women’s champions were crowned Sunday from coast-to-coast with a number of stunning finishes, emotional victories and upsets aplenty on the road to the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

In case you missed any of the incredible action, let’s run through the top moments (plus other news) in our Eight Ends:

1st End: Brothers defeats Arsenault for Nova Scotia title

Mary-Anne Arsenault entered the Nova Scotia Scotties as the defending champion and finished first in the round robin to earn a direct berth to the final. The two-time world and five-time Canadian champ looked like she was on her way to making another appearance at nationals.

Jill Brothers never trailed in the final though stealing a point in the opening end and grabbed the lead for good with a single in the fifth followed by a steal of two in six. Arsenault scored a deuce in seven, but Brothers held on from there to win 8-5.

While it wasn’t the biggest upset of the day, it was a harbinger for what to expect.

2nd End: Hanna stuns Homan to win Ontario

Okay, now this was the biggest upset of the day.

Rachel Homan and her team have been playing lights-out all year winning seven titles on tour including the Canada Cup and a record three consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championships.

It looked like that stellar season was going to continue through the Ontario Scotties. Granted, Homan did finish the round robin at 8-1 with a loss to Sherry Middaugh so it’s not like her team was unstoppable. There was also the game against fellow Ottawa Curling Club mate (and 2005 Ontario winner) Jenn Hanna where Homan needed to score two in the 10th and then steal a point in the extra end to win, which in retrospect should have been a sign that there could be trouble in the final.

Bad luck struck Homan right at the start when a blank attempt in the first failed, forcing her to take a single, and a wrecked shot in the second that promoted an opposing guard into the house allowed Hanna to capitalize and score three. Homan appeared to get back on track and it was tied through six, however, the following two ends took a sharp turn.

It looked like Homan was going to pick up two or three in the seventh but a pair of bad shots led to a steal of two for Hanna. The eighth end sunk her chances even further as Homan wrecked on her own stone and gave up a steal of three with Hanna leading 10-5 and only two ends remaining.

To their credit, Team Homan didn’t give up. They grabbed a deuce in nine and sat three in the 10th, but without the hammer and not a single guard protecting their trio, it was an easy takeout shot for Hanna that iced the game.

What a story for Hanna, who had just returned to the competitive scene this season following a hiatus from curling and now returns to nationals for the first time in over a decade.

Team Homan’s season isn’t over as they still have the Players’ Championship and Champions Cup to look forward to.

3rd End: McCarville tops Fleury in Northern Ontario

The Northern Ontario Scotties was shaping up to feature a major tilt for the title and it didn’t disappoint.

Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., has quietly put together an impressive season winning four tour events in a row. Tracy Fleury of Sudbury, Ont., emerged as a contender on the Pinty’s GSOC circuit and finished runner-up to Homan at the National in November.

Both have been to nationals before and either team could have come out on top, but it was McCarville’s week as she defeated Fleury twice in the round robin and once more in the final.

4th End: Third time’s the charm for Manitoba’s Einarson

Kerri Einarson started this season determined to finally win the Manitoba Scotties title after finishing runner-up at the past two provincials.

Einarson lost in 2014 to Chelsea Carey (now playing Alberta, more on her later) and in 2015 to Jennifer Jones (auto-berthed as Team Canada) so it looked like the window of opportunity was there for her to break through.

Team Einarson dropped her opening match at the Manitoba Scotties and in one of the deepest provinces in Canada there’s little room for error to qualify. It might have been the best thing to happen to them as they won six straight to finish first in their division.

Meanwhile, Carey’s former third Kristy McDonald took another leap forward in her second year skipping her current crew. The Winnipeg-based team, who qualified for the playoffs at three Pinty’s GSOC events this season, also finished 6-1 in the round robin.

The two teams faced in the A vs. A page playoff with McDonald coming out on top. Again, it might have been for the best for Einarson as she kicked it into high-gear winning the semifinal over Shannon Birchard and took the rematch against McDonald to finally capture the Manitoba title.

Einarson’s reaction says it all.

4th End: Young stars shine in Manitoba

Shannon Birchard, a two-time finalist at the Canadian junior women’s championships, was playing in just her second career Manitoba Scotties. The 21-year-old from Winnipeg went 6-1 through the round robin to qualify.

Meanwhile, five-time Canadian champion Cathy Overton-Clapham didn’t plan on playing competitive curling this season, but the young trio of Briane Meilleur, Katherine Doerksen and Krysten Karwacki were in a tough situation when their skip dropped out during the summer.

“I actually had no intention of curling on a team this year,” Overton-Clapham said in September. “I had planned to spare in a couple events. The girls contacted me at the end of May and said that their skip had decided not to curl so they were in a bind. I said I didn’t want to commit to a team but I would spare. … So a couple of e-mails back and forth and they were still struggling so I said that I would play in three events and playdowns — if we’re fortunate enough to make playdowns — so that’s how it stuck.”

Funny how that turned out as Team Overton-Clapham made it to the Manitoba Scotties and also qualified for the playoffs with a 6-1 record.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Team Overton-Clapham next season. As for Team Birchard, this should be a warning to keep them on the radar as ones to watch make the next step forward.

5th End: Carey comes out on top in Alberta

Chelsea Carey played in her third straight provincial final, although it was with her third different team.

After winning the Manitoba title in 2014, she headed west to Alberta and played with Laura Crocker, Taylor McDonald and Jen Gates last season. They lost to Val Sweeting in the Alberta final and Carey parted ways with the team.

Around the same time, Heather Nedohin decided to step back from competitive curling. Her former teammates Amy Nixon, Jocelyn Peterman, and Laine Peters started searching for a new skip. Enter Carey and the Calgary-based crew clicked.

Sweeting, looking for a third straight Alberta title, won the A-side of the triple knockout tournament defeating Carey in the qualifier. The Edmonton team also took the rematch during the page playoffs when Carey’s final shot in the 10th slid through the house to give up a steal.

Redemption came in the final as it was Carey’s time to shine.

6th End: Thompson tops Scott in B.C.

It was a wild weekend for Karla Thompson at the B.C. Scotties.

Even though Thompson and her Kamloops, B.C., team qualified for the page playoffs they had dropped their final two round robin games including an 8-7 extra end loss to six-time provincial champ Kelly Scott of Kelowna.

Team Thompson faced Team Scott again in the 1 vs. 2 game and erased a 7-0 deficit then held on to win 11-10.

The rubber match for the title was all Thompson though as she was on point every end to win 11-3.

7th End: Elsewhere in the curling world

With so much drama in the provincial Scotties, it’s easy to forget there were a couple notable men’s events happening this weekend too.

Reigning Brier champion Pat Simmons and his Calgary-based crew stayed south following the Continental Cup in Las Vegas and captured the Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic in Tempe, Arizona, with a 9-3 win over Jim Cotter and his Kelowna/Vernon, B.C. team in Sunday’s final.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s David Murdoch scored two in the final end to edge Soo-Hyuk Kim of South Korea 5-4 and take the German Masters. That’s their second title of 2016 after winning the Karuizawa International in Japan earlier this month. Team Murdoch have been on a roll as they also qualified for the playoff at the Meridian Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask., in December and reached the semifinals at the Mercure Perth Masters a couple weeks ago.

8th End: Playdowns continue

Not all of the provinces and territories have determined their representatives for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Playdowns for New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan take place this weekend.

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts runs Feb. 20-28 in Grande Prairie, Alta. The winner of the Scotties will represent Canada at the world championship March 19-27 in Swift Current, Sask.

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