Brad Gushue celebrates taking four points at the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends: Gushue off to perfect start in 2017

January 10, 2017, 5:07 PM

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — What a way to start a new year.

Brad Gushue’s return to top form and Casey Scheidegger’s stunning debut at the Meridian Canadian Open kicked off the 2017 portion of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.

Some teams now head into their provincial playdowns with momentum while those that did not qualify for the playoffs are hoping to regroup quickly or risk missing out on either the Scotties Tournament of Hearts or the Tim Hortons Brier.

Let’s break down takeaways from the Meridian Canadian Open in Eight Ends:

1st End: Gushue off to perfect start in 2017

It didn’t take long for Gushue to find his way back into the winner’s circle in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

The Meridian Canadian Open was just Gushue’s second tournament of the season, following his return from a hip/groin issue, and even if he isn’t feeling 100 percent yet, he’s at least playing at a 100 percent clip.

Gushue threw a perfect game during the men’s final defeating Niklas Edin with a convincing 8-3 victory Sunday to capture his seventh career championship in the series. While Edin made some heroic shots to keep his team in it, a bad throw in the second end by the Swedish skip opened the door for Gushue to score four and take control.

What’s amazing is it wasn’t even Gushue’s first 100 of the tournament as he had a sensational Saturday with a perfect game against Steve Laycock during the quarterfinals and a 4-0 shutout over Brad Jacobs in the semis while never holding the hammer and stealing three ends to score.

While Gushue himself is the top story, credit should also go to the rest of the lineup: third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker. They proved they’re a true murderer’s row by never missing the playoffs once during eight events while Gushue was on the mend. They’ve been key to Gushue winning six Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles within the past two-and-a-half seasons and the foursome were solid up and down the lineup in the final curling 95 percent as a unit.

A huge calendar year lies ahead for the St. John’s, N.L., squad with their hometown hosting the Tim Hortons Brier as Gushue looks to lock up that elusive national men’s championship in front of his family, friends and fans. Gushue has represented his province 13 times at the Brier over the previous 14 seasons (he was just a little busy in 2006), but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a breeze through provincials this year.

2nd End: Scheidegger slays the giants in rookie Grand Slam

It was an incredible week for Casey Scheidegger’s team winning their first career Grand Slam title in their series debut.

The Lethbridge, Alta., crew of Scheidegger, third Cary-Anne McTaggart, second Jessie Scheidegger and lead Stephanie Enright had earned the “giant killers” nickname on tour this season winning three events, but it was still a question of how they would fare against all of the top teams in the world at the same event. The answer: just fine.

Scheidegger took down past Grand Slam champions like Rachel Homan, Kerri Einarson, Jennifer Jones and Val Sweeting en route to the final and topped Silvana Tirinzoni 5-4 in the championship game.

Scheidegger perfectly buried her last stone with the scored tied and Tirinzoni holding the hammer. Tirinzoni needed her final rock of the game to hit the paint in the four-foot circle, but it was light right out of her hands. Sweepers Marlene Albrecht and Esther Neuenschwander started digging a trench immediately hoping to drag it in, however, the stone came up just short to give up the steal.

Breaks certainly went their way as they earned key steals and watched their opponents become increasingly frustrated and rattled, which only led to even more steals in their favour. Sometimes the breaks fall your way and as Scheidegger said, that’s curling.

3rd End: Walker-Enright family goes 2-for-2

Siblings Walker and Enright led the way Sunday with both of their teams clinching championships.

It was also special Saturday night when they were playing on sheets right next to each other when they punched their tickets to the finals. Walker, originally from Beaverlodge, Alta., said after the semifinals he was pretty proud to see his sister’s team reach the final in their first Grand Slam.

Enright still has some catching up to do in order to reach Walker’s six Grand Slam titles though.

4th End: Who’s next?

Scheidegger joined WFG Masters champion Allison Flaxey and Boost National victor Kerri Einarson as first-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s champions this season.

It makes you wonder if the trend will hold up for the remainder of the season and who will be the next. If that’s the case, look no further than Anna Hasselborg, who reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date rankings with her third Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling semifinal finish of the season.

The Swedish skip has been knocking on the door and looks poised to crash the party sooner than later.

5th End: Tirinzoni takes top spot in Rogers Grand Slam Cup race

Tirinzoni finished runner-up for the second consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event and the strong result has pushed her into the top spot on the Rogers Grand Slam Cup standings, awarded annually following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship with a cool $75,000 bonus.

The chase for the Rogers Grand Slam Cup is far from over though with double points on the line at the Players’ Championship.

Edin of Sweden maintained his spot at No. 1 on the men’s side with Gushue sliding up into second place. Rogers Grand Slam Cup points will be up for grabs at the men’s invitational Princess Auto Elite 10, so with two men’s events still to come the race is still on.

6th End: Cathy O does it again

Cathy Overton-Clapham lived up to “super spare” billing once more.

The five-time Grand Slam champion from Winnipeg filled in on Team Tirinzoni for the second consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event with third Manuela Siegrist out indefinitely following knee surgery.

Overton-Clapham helped Val Sweeting win her first career Grand Slam at the Masters in 2014 and captured the Players’ Championship with Eve Muirhead last year.

7th End: Lineup change does Bottcher good

Brendan Bottcher brought in veteran skip Pat Simmons to play third for his team this season, but the union didn’t last long. Simmons and the Edmonton-based crew headed their separate ways during the Christmas break. The split wasn’t a total surprise as things clearly were not working out as they struggled on tour with zero playoff appearances through three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events.

Bottcher brought Darren Moulding on board for the Meridian Canadian Open and the team finally reached the quarterfinals. While Bottcher hasn’t made an official announcement, it seems Moulding’s stay has been extended judging by their Twitter account bio and a fresh new team photo as their banner picture.

8th End: Homan doesn’t qualify

Fans just joining in for playoff coverage of the Meridian Canadian Open were probably shocked they didn’t see Ottawa’s Team Homan in the quarterfinals.

Homan, who was the defending champion, fell to Jacqueline Harrison of Mississauga, Ont., during the C-qualifiers to miss the playoffs at a Pinty’s GSOC event for the first time in her career.

All streaks must come to an end and now one can look back and see just how impressive it was for Homan to qualify in her first 18 Pinty’s GSOC events consecutively.

Homan got out to a slow start dropping to a 0-2 record right out of the gate with losses to Harrison and Scheidegger. Playing in a triple knockout preliminary round — where you must win three games before you lose three — meant the team was always on the verge of elimination from that point forward.

Wins over Anna Sidorova and Briane Meilleur levelled Homan’s record, but another loss to Harrison bookended her week.

Extra End: Princess Auto Elite 10 next on the schedule

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series will be laying low for a little bit until its next event, the Princess Auto Elite 10, running March 16-19 in Port Hawkesbury, N.S.

The Hawk is a familiar tour spot having hosted the National four times in the past, most recently in 2013.

Tickets are now available, click here for more information.

Keep it tuned to Sportsnet in the meantime for provincial coverage starting with the Manitoba and Alberta women’s playdowns on Jan. 29 followed by the men’s playdowns on Feb. 12.