Rachel Homan shoots a stone during the Boost National women's final on Dec. 16, 2018, in Conception Bay South, N.L. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends: Meridian Canadian Open preview

January 7, 2019, 1:30 PM

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — The world’s best curling teams will be looking to start 2019 right at the Meridian Canadian Open.

The fifth event and third major of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling campaign rings in the New Year with 16 men’s teams and 16 women’s teams from around the globe competing for a combined $250,000 purse. We’re past the midway mark of the season and teams will be aiming to shift into top gear (if they haven’t already) in the final tune-up before provincial playdowns.

Here is everything you need to know in Eight Ends before Tuesday night’s opening draw at North Battleford’s Civic Centre.

Quick Links: Tickets | Teams | Game Schedule | Broadcast Schedule

1st End: A brief overview of the Meridian Canadian Open

The Meridian Canadian Open is one of the original four in the seven-event series and kicked off the Grand Slam era in 2001. Originally a men’s invitational, a women’s division was added in 2014.

Teams are invited from both the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit and Year-to-Date ranking systems to reward teams who have had hot starts to the season.

Also receiving berths are the Tour Challenge Tier 2 winners — Saskatoon’s Team Kirk Muyres (men’s) and Team Elena Stern of Switzerland (women’s) — to provide promotions into the elite series.

Sponsor’s exemptions were granted to Saskatoon’s Team Rylan Kleiter, who recently earned their third consecutive junior men’s provincial championship, and North Battleford’s own Team Robyn Silvernagle.

This is the second time in three seasons North Battleford hosts the event. Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., topped Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin for the men’s title two years ago in a preview of that season’s world men’s championship gold-medal match. Team Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., entered as the underdogs competing in their first top-tier Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event but proved they belonged by capturing the women’s title.

Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland and Calgary’s Team Chelsea Carey are the defending champions winning their first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles last year in Camrose, Alta.

The winning teams earn $30,000 plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. You can bet teams who haven’t already booked their spots will be seeking it here with space running out.

Points are also up for grabs for the Pinty’s Cup, awarded to the overall season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. The Meridian Canadian Open is the penultimate chance for teams to score points.

2nd End: Mama said knock you out

Although triple knockout is common elsewhere on the World Curling Tour, the Meridian Canadian Open is the only Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event to feature the unique format over round-robin pools.

How it works is the 16 teams are slotted into one of two A brackets with the goal of winning three games before you lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs. Losses drop teams to the B event and then C event with elimination on the line.

Two A teams (3-0 records), three B teams (3-1) and three C teams (3-2) advance to the quarterfinals.

Standard Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling rules apply: games are played to eight ends, the five-rock rule is in effect and teams receive 33 minutes of thinking time plus two, 90-second timeouts.

3rd End: Bracketology 101

What makes triple knockout a preferred format is all games matter; as long as you’re playing, you’re still in it. Pool play can have a team that has already qualified facing a team that’s been eliminated and just playing for pride. With the 16-team triple knockout, teams are always facing another team that’s in an identical position as themselves.

Teams can breeze through preliminary play at 3-0 (and score some rest with Friday off) or they may need that “backs against the wall” pressure in the C-side to get them fired up.

So then, which path has produced the most success since the format was reintroduced in 2014? Let’s break out the stats.

Champions 1 5 2
Runners-up 5 1 2

The numbers never lie: B-side has been the path that has set up teams for the most success. Playing one more game via B also gives teams an opportunity to see another sheet of ice, different rocks, etc. and ensures they’re not too relaxed heading into the playoffs. A teams have made as many finals but have only produced one champion (Team John Epping in 2015). Between the two paths, if you’re only going to lose one game then at least get it out of the way early.

4th End: The return of Ryan Fry

The top storyline heading into the Meridian Canadian Open is third Ryan Fry rejoining Team Brad Jacobs. In case you’ve been living under a (curling) rock, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.-based club announced Fry will be back after taking a leave of absence.

Team Jacobs haven’t really missed a beat since they won the Tour Challenge Tier 1 in November prior to Fry’s hiatus winning the Canada Cup with super spare Marc Kennedy and reaching the quarterfinals at the Boost National following an undefeated 4-0 round-robin start with Matt Wozniak filling in. It’ll be intriguing to see how the team performs with Fry back in the mix.

5th End: Other men’s division storylines

- Team Gushue opened the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season capturing the Princess Auto Elite 10, the 11th title for their skip, but they haven’t won a playoff game in the series since with three consecutive quarterfinal finishes. Gushue maintains first place in the Pinty’s Cup race, although it’s down to a slim one-point margin over Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe, who reached the semifinals at the Boost National to close the gap and appear on the verge of taking the top spot. Koe also climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the world.

- Team Brendan Bottcher have played in only one Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event this season but they made it count reaching their first final in the series at the Tour Challenge (Tier 1). The reigning Brier silver medallists are no longer underdogs and are legit threats to contend again here.

- Team Carruthers (or are they Team McEwen now? How about Team CarEwen?) closed out the calendar year winning the Karuizawa International in Japan. It was a much-needed victory for the retooled Winnipeg club with fourth Mike McEwen calling the shots and Reid Carruthers taking on a more traditional vice skip role at third. Some may say they’ve been struggling by missing the playoffs in the past three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events, however, a more apt description would be they’re rebuilding and tinkering with the lineup to figure out what works best.

- With provincial playdowns on the horizon, keep an eye out for the trio of Ontario teams. Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene has been trending upwards lately with two World Curling Tour titles wins sandwiched between back-to-back playoff appearances in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. Toronto’s Team Epping have a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title under their belts from the Canadian Beef Masters but have been in a bit of a slump since missing the playoffs at the Tour Challenge and Boost National. Kingston’s Team Scott McDonald, the Tour Challenge Tier 2 runners-up, have been bubbling under the radar so far and could make a suprise strike.

6th End: Women’s division storylines

- Team Rachel Homan is running at a high-octane level reminiscent of their 2015 when they won three consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments. The Ottawa-based club enters the Meridian Canadian Open having won back-to-back titles and target three in a row once more.

- Homan’s victory last month at the Boost National, her ninth career Pinty’s GSOC championship, tied Jennifer Jones for the most women’s titles won in series history. Both will aim for double digits and sole possession of first place, but the Winnipeg skip Jones could add another notch by becoming the first to complete a career Grand Slam on the women’s side. The Meridian Canadian Open is the only one of the four majors missing from Jones’s resume.

- Kerri Einarson’s all-new team continued to exceed expectations by reaching the final at the Boost National. Will they take the next step at the Meridian Canadian Open?

- Homan isn’t the only one who has captured consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles this season. Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg took a giant leap out of the gate to claim their first couple championships in the series at the Princess Auto Elite 10 and Canadian Beef Masters. The reigning Olympic gold medallists topped the round-robin table at the Boost National with an unblemished 4-0 but were cooled in the quarterfinals falling to Einarson 8-3. Fresh from capturing the Swedish championship, can Hasselborg get back into the winner’s circle in the GSOC?

7th End: How to attend

Full-event and weekend passes plus individual draw tickets for the Meridian Canadian Open are available online at 2019canadianopen.goigniter.com. With games taking place all week long, the full-event pass is your best bet as you’ll never miss a moment from the opening ceremonies through to the last shot of the finals.

Your ticket also grants you access to the Pinty’s Pub and Grill Zone, your premier destination for watching the action up close at ice level. No extra admission is required, so feel free to head on down.

Looking for fun between draws? Head upstairs to the Grand Slam Social House for food, beverages and live entertainment.

8th End: How to watch: TV & online streaming

Broadcast coverage of the Meridian Canadian Open begins Thursday on Sportsnet. Check the schedule below for times and channels. Watch the broadcast draws online by subscribing to Sportsnet NOW (Canada) or Yare (international).

Draw Eastern Time Pacific Time Watch
Thursday, Jan. 10
Triple Knockout 12:30 p.m. 9:30 a.m. Sportsnet
Triple Knockout 4:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. Sportsnet
Triple Knockout 8:00 p.m. 5:00 p.m. Sportsnet ONE
Friday, Jan. 11
Triple Knockout 12:30 p.m. 9:30 a.m. Sportsnet
Triple Knockout 4:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. Sportsnet
Triple Knockout 7:30 p.m. 4:30 p.m. Sportsnet East, Ontario
& Pacific
Saturday, Jan. 12
Women’s Quarterfinals 12:30 p.m. 9:30 a.m. CBC
Men’s Quarterfinals 4:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. Sportsnet
Men’s & Women’s Semifinals 8:00 p.m. 5:00 p.m. Sportsnet 360
Sunday, Jan. 13
Men’s Final 12:30 p.m. 9:30 a.m. CBC
Women’s Final 4:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. Sportsnet
Note: Broadcast schedule subject to change.