Brad Gushue shoots a stone during the 13th draw of the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in Regina on Sept. 8, 2017. (Anil Mungal)

8 Ends: Canada-Brazil challenge sign of global growth

October 3, 2017, 2:11 PM

If Canada plans on pulling off a three-peat at the world men’s curling championship next year in Las Vegas they’ll have to get through Brazil first.

Wait, Brazil?! That’s right. The Americas are only guaranteed two spots at the worlds and with the U.S. assured one of them as the host nation, other curling countries within the vast zone can challenge No. 1 ranked Canada for the second spot. Brazil, ranked 44th in the world, has stepped up to the plate and will play Canada in a best-of-five series during the Continental Cup, Jan. 11-14 in London, Ont.

This isn’t the first time Brazil has issued a challenge although it’s a first for Canada as the other four times (2009, 2010, 2015 and 2017) have all been against the U.S. Brazil has yet to win a single game in the challenge series, however, as it’s been a clean sweep for the U.S. every time. American John Shuster went 3-0 against Brazil’s Marcelo Mello last season.

Canadian curling fans don’t need to panic as the best-of-five scenario pretty much throws out the possibility of an upset — pending a collapse of epic proportions — and Gerry Peckham, Director, High Performance, for Curling Canada, said in a media release last Thursday the program plans to take the challenge “seriously,” so you can expect they’ll pick a top-ranked team.

There’s no rush as Canada has until Dec. 31 to select a team and a decision will probably come close to the deadline with the Olympic Trials taking place earlier that month. Reigning world champs Team Gushue would be the obvious choice to defend the spot – to be the man you have to beat the man as Ric Flair says – but considering the St. John’s, N.L., crew will already be competing in the Continental Cup (as the Brier winners) it would be unwise, or even impossible, for them to handle double duty.

The flip side is you can’t blame Brazil as they don’t have another avenue to compete for a spot in the worlds. It’ll be huge exposure for them with the games taking place during a televised event and just issuing the challenge has likely helped their profile too (raise your hand if you knew Brazil even had a curling team and no cheating). Plus, you only get better by playing against good teams and it’ll be an eye-opening experience against a top Canadian team.

TL;DR: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

It does expose an obvious flaw in the system and one the World Curling Federation looks to be rectifying. Could you imagine if Canada didn’t qualify for the world men’s championship especially after winning gold the past two years? A similar situation occurred last season on the women’s side as host China was guaranteed one of the two Pacific-Asia spots and Japan, after winning silver at the worlds the year prior, was left out after losing in the Pacific-Asia championship semifinals to China (South Korea, which beat China in the final, scored the second spot at the worlds).

The WCF ruled at its annual general assembly in September the Pacific-Asia zone will have a third spot this season, raising the total number of teams at the world championships to 13, although starting in 2018-19 there will be an additional world qualification event for those who lucked out. Challenges may still happen, but at least there will be another route to get in as the sport continues to grow into new markets.


1st End: Gushue bounces back in Basel

Speaking of Team Gushue, Brad and the b’ys got back on track — and back to No. 1 on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit — winning the Swiss Cup Basel title.

Gushue capped an undefeated run through the tournament with a 5-2 win over Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud in Sunday’s final to take the championship for a fifth time.

Gushue broke a 1-1 tie with a deuce in the fourth end, forced Ulsrud to another single in the sixth and potted another pair of points in seven.

The team of Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker qualified A side through the triple knockout, stole two in the eighth to squeak by Niklas Edin 5-3 in the quarterfinals and hammered Jaap van Dorp 11-3 in the semis.

Ulsrud reached the playoffs through the other A bracket and beat Bruce Mouat and Peter de Cruz to also advance to the final with an unblemished record.

Gushue, who won the Tour Challenge Tier 1 to start the season, rebounded from a disappointing run two weeks prior at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., where his team went 2-3 and missed the playoffs.

Team Gushue now turn their attention to defending the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. Nichols called the shots for the squad when they were victorious a year ago as their skip was on the IR with a hip/groin issue.


2nd End: Homan victorious in Vernon

Rachel Homan also recovered on tour to claim the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic title in Vernon, B.C.

Homan defeated Un-Chi Gim of South Korea 10-4 in Sunday’s final.

The Ottawa team of Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle opened with a three-ender, stole two in the second for a commanding 5-0 advantage and never looked back. Gim took a single in three and Homan replied with a deuce in four to extend her lead. A count of three in the fifth for Gim looked to close the gap 7-4, but alas, Homan matched with a trio of her own in the sixth to ice the game.

Homan posted a perfect record through the tournament topping the round-robin pool at 5-0, defeated Nina Roth 8-3 in the quarterfinals and escaped with a 6-5 victory over Shannon Kleibrink in the semifinals by stealing in the extra end.

Gim went 4-1 in the round-robin portion with playoff wins over Val Sweeting and Chelsea Carey to reach the championship game.

Team Homan started the season at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and did not qualify for the playoffs with a 1-3 record.


3rd End: Paetz slides through Stockholm

Alina Paetz needed an extra end to beat EunJung Kim 8-7 Sunday and claim the Stockholm Ladies Cup in Sweden.

The Swiss team of Paetz, third Nadine Lehmann, second Marisa Winkelhausen and lead Nichole Schwaegli finished the tournament undefeated with a 4-0 round-robin record and playoff wins over Sophie Jackson and Cory Christensen to reach the final.

Kim, of South Korea, went 4-1 through round-robin play and defeated Silvana Tirinzoni and defending champ Anna Hasselborg in the playoffs.


4th End: Flasch on fire at College Clean Restoration Curling Classic

Is another season of upsets brewing?

Last year saw several underdogs take down the top teams on tour, including those on the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling circuit. Shannon Birchard stunned Jennifer Jones to win the Colonial Square Ladies Classic in Saskatoon two weeks ago and the Nutana Curling Club played host to another upset on the men’s side this past weekend.

Saskatoon’s own Colton Flasch stole in the eighth to beat Chang-Min Kim of South Korea 4-3 in Monday’s final.

It’s the first big event title as a skip for Flasch, who previously played second for Team Laycock before forming his own squad this season with third Kevin Marsh, second Daniel Marsh and lead Trent Knapp.

Team Flasch rolled right through the hometown tournament undefeated qualifying A side in the triple knockout and defeating Brady Clark 3-1 in the quarterfinals and John Epping 7-3 during the semis.

Kim, who will represent the home side at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, snuck in through the C bracket and scored playoff wins over John Morris and Jason Gunnlaugson to advance to the championship game.

Also worth noting: Gunnlaugson ousted Mike McEwen in Sunday’s C qualifiers 8-1 in just three ends. No, that’s not a typo. After splitting singles to start, Gunnlaugson ended the game way early with a huge seven-ender in the third to advance to the playoffs.


5th End: Elsewhere on tour

Nadine Scotland successfully defended the Avonair Cash Spiel title in Edmonton stealing two in the eighth to edge Jodi Marthaller 7-6 in Sunday’s final. Aaron Sluchinski won the men’s title with a 6-4 win over De Jian Zou.

Jeff Guignard stole in the extra end to swipe a 4-3 victory Sunday over Adam Cseke in the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic men’s final.

Dennis Bohn claimed the KKP Classic title in Winnipeg with a 5-3 win over Travis Bale in Sunday’s final.


6th End: Coming up on tour

Thirty-two of the top women’s teams are set to compete in the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic at the Calgary Curling Club. Headlining the field are Team Homan, Team Jones, Team Sweeting and the defending champions Team Scheidegger. It was at the event a year ago when Scheidegger upset Jones for the title during a breakout season on tour that also included a Meridian Canadian Open title victory.

The top men’s teams are split between Edmonton’s Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic at the Crestwood Curling Club and the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard at High Park Club this weekend.

Team Carruthers, Team Laycock, Team Morris and both Koe teams headline the field in Edmonton with Team Gushue, Team Epping, Team Howard and Team Ulsrud in T.O. Speaking of Ulsrud, second Christoffer Svae may need to borrow a pair of funny pants.

Team Fleury, Team Harrison, Team McCarville and Team Middaugh lead the women’s side at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard.

Another high-profile event is the Women’s Masters Basel event in Switzerland featuring Team Sidorova, Team Feltscher, Team Kim and more.

Also on tap are the St. Paul Cash Spiel (St. Paul, Minn.), the Man Curl Tour Classic (Winnipeg), the Bud Light Men’s Cashspiel and New Scotland Clothing Ladies Cashspiel (Halifax).


7th End: All mixed up

The world mixed curling championship also gets underway Friday in Champery, Switzerland.

Thirty-eight teams will compete for the crown with the Northern Ontario foursome of skip Trevor Bonot, third Jackie McCormick, second Kory Carr and lead Megan Carr representing Canada after winning nationals last year.

This will be just the third time the world mixed curling championship has been held. Canada has yet to medal in the event falling in the quarterfinals both times previously. Russia won the title last year with Norway capturing the inaugural title in 2015 while Sweden has settled for silver twice.


8th End: Tickets & TV for the Masters

We’re just three weeks away to the next Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event, the Masters, taking place Oct. 24-29 at Centennial Civic Centre in Lloydminster, Sask.

The field has been set, click here to see the list of teams.

Full event and weekend passes plus single draw tickets are now available. Visit Lloydgsoc.goigniter.com to purchase online or call 306-825-5161.

Can’t make it to Lloydminster? Television coverage begins Oct. 26 at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet, click here for the TV schedule. Watch online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) or gsoc.yaretv.com (international).

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