Walker steals thunder from McCarville to start GSOC Tour Challenge

Laura Walker shoots a stone during the opening draw of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 on Nov. 6, 2018, in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Call Team Laura Walker rude house guests but a win’s a win at the Tour Challenge Tier 1.

The Edmonton club silenced the moose calls of the capacity crowd on hand at Tournament Centre who were cheering on hometown heroes Team Krista McCarville with an 8-2 blitz during Tuesday night’s opening draw.

“It always feels good to come out playing well,” Walker said. “I think we had the ice figured out from the get-go. That was a fantastic surface to play on tonight. Started right with our lead Morgan (Court) tonight, our spare. She played fantastic and made our shots easier down the line. We strung together eight shots most ends. That works usually.”

Court, who plays lead for Team Jacqueline Harrison and is competing in the Tier 2 division, got the emergency call-up as Team Walker’s lead Laine Peters was unable to make it for the first draw.

“She’s on a flight right now, so she’s en route,” Walker said. “She just had an important work thing she couldn’t miss today.”

The force was strong to start with the teams limited to singles in the opening couple ends. Walker broke up the 1-1 tie in the third end big time though. McCarville misfired on her last allowing Walker to capitalize with a draw to score four.

“We played a good end. We were looking like we might get forced or maybe get a deuce and I just left my first one in a spot that was tough for her to deal with, in a bit of a straight spot,” Walker said. “She didn’t throw it too bad, she just got caught in a bit of a run, jammed it and left us with a draw for four. It was kind of a back and forth end until that very last shot of hers.”

Walker added some insurance with steals in four and five to put the game out of reach. McCarville crashed on a guard in the fourth to hand over two points and was unable to bump Walker’s shot rock off of the button that remained frozen.

After McCarville hit and stuck around for another single in the sixth, out came the handshakes for an early ending.

Elsewhere, Edmonton’s Team Chelsea Carey took down Team Jamie Sinclair of Chaska, Minn., 5-2. Carey settled for a single in the sixth to snap a 2-2 tie and tacked on back-to-back steals in the seventh and eighth ends to hold on.

In men’s play, a well-rested Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., fended off Team Rich Ruohonen from Chaska, Minn., 7-4. Gushue had a wild fortnight last month finishing runner-up at the China Open and heading straight to Truro, N.S., for the Canadian Beef Masters where they fell in the quarterfinals.

The crew now appear recharged as they look to defend the Tour Challenge Tier 1 men’s title.

“You could tell it wasn’t the normal Team Gushue last Slam,” lead Geoff Walker said. “We don’t want to make that as an excuse but I think that really spiralled into a lot of things. We were making a lot of mistakes.

“It felt good. We got home this week, the guys were back in St. John’s and I was back in Edmonton, but we threw a lot of rocks and got some kinks worked out. We just got re-energized and I think we were really ready to go this week.”

Gushue gave up a steal to start in the second but took back control with a deuce in three and held Ruohonen to a single in four. The teams alternated pairs of points in five and six and Gushue grabbed another couple in seven. Ruohonen was unable to keep the pace and force an extra end, however, as fourth Greg Persinger’s last shot of the eighth hit their own guard.

“It’s always good, obviously, getting your first win at a Slam,” Walker said. “That’s always the key game it seems like. You want to get off to that start so your backs aren’t against the wall early.

“We didn’t play terrible. They played really well; We give them a lot of credit. We hung in there and after giving up a steal early were able to get a deuce back after and we just sort of controlled it after that but they made a lot of shots and kept it close.”

Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., scored a 9-2 shellacking over Winnipeg’s Team Braden Calvert and Team John Shuster of Duluth, Minn., picked up a 6-3 victory over Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone.

The Tour Challenge is the third event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season featuring the largest field in the series with 60 teams split into two tiers of action. Tier 1 includes 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. Both Tier 2 divisions are composed of the next 10 teams ranked on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus five teams from within the event’s region.

Round-robin play runs through to Friday night with the top eight overall qualifying for Saturday’s quarterfinals. The semifinals are set for Saturday evening with all finals scheduled for Sunday.

TIER 2 RESULTS: Team Wayne Tuck of Strathroy, Ont., hung on for a 7-6 win over Team Tanner Lott of Winnipeg Beach, Man. Team Tanner Horgan of Sudbury, Ont., scored two in the eighth to edge Winnipeg’s Team Dennis Bohn 8-6. Team Dylan Johnston of Thunder Bay, Ont., scored a single in the extra end to slip past Team Jordan Chandler of Sudbury, Ont., 4-3.

Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura toppled Team Jenna Enge of Thunder Bay, Ont., 10-3 and South Korea’s Team Un-Chi Gim scored three in the extra end to beat Edmonton’s Team Kelsey Rocque 9-6.

NOTES: Winners of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 earn $25,000 of the $200,000 total purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup event. … Points are also up for grabs in the Tier 1 division towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. … Tier 2 winners earn the opportunity to move up the ranks receiving invitations to the Meridian Canadian Open taking place Jan. 8-13, 2019, in North Battleford, Sask.

UP NEXT: The Tour Challenge resumes Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. ET at Thunder Bay Tournament Centre. Broadcast coverage begins Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

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