Steve Laycock shoots a stone during the 2017 Meridian Canadian Open in Camrose, Alta. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends: Triple knockout could be on the rise again

January 23, 2018, 5:14 PM

If Steve Laycock had his way, every Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament would use triple knockout for preliminary play.

While triple knockout is common on the World Curling Tour — and all GSOC tournaments used it back in the day — the Meridian Canadian Open is the only one of the seven events in the series to feature the format with round-robin the choice for all the others.

Even then, this past week in Camrose, Alta., was just the fourth year triple knockout has been used at the Meridian Canadian Open since the format was reintroduced to the tournament in 2014.

The simplest explanation for triple knockout is teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs. All teams start in the A event brackets and as they lose games drop to the B and then the C event. After that it’s C-you-later as winners move on and losers are gone.

There aren’t any meaningless games between one team that has qualified and another already eliminated or teams crossing their fingers for a tiebreaker. The 16-team triple knockout has teams playing those with identical records making for some interesting match-ups when you have winless Team Koe and Team Morris fighting to stay alive in the tournament. Teams feel more in control of their own destiny this way knowing as long as they win they can get into the playoffs.

Like a phoenix rising from Arizona, could triple knockout become the new norm again in the GSOC? Talking to players at the Meridian Canadian Open, the general consensus of triple knockout was quite positive with Laycock voicing the strongest opinion in favour.

“You always have a chance to win the event if you’re playing,” Laycock said. “You don’t have to look at other sheets and hope for other people. You don’t worry about shootouts and figuring out who has the best shootout heading into the last game. If you’re on the ice, you have a chance to win. If you get off to a slow start you’re playing other teams that got off to a slow start. I think it’s perfect in every way.”

Count Jason Gunnlaugson as a supporter of triple knockout too.

“I love the triple knockout. I’ve always been a huge fan of it,” Gunnlaugson said. “The pool play has its positives but the triple knockout as a competitor is a little more clean. You know what’s happening a little more. It’s more in front of you.”

Triple knockout isn’t without its faults of course. Under round-robin play you know when all of your preliminary games are and which sheet you’re playing on plus all your family, friends and fans know which draws to buy tickets for in advance. Fans can print out the full match schedule and plan their day accordingly. The TV side knows which game to feature and promote accordingly. With triple knockout, you might not know the lineup until the previous draw is complete.

Plus let’s be honest, curling is a complicated sport enough as it is to newcomers. A format like triple knockout is just another quirk to wrap your brain around. The GSOC received one complaint from an angry fan wondering where the win-loss standings page was even though it’s a bracket. However, the more triple knockout is used in mainstream tournaments, the more familiar and accepted it’ll become.

Perhaps the Meridian Canadian Open being the only one of the seven to feature triple knockout makes it unique and overexposure would limit its appeal.

Either way, triple knockout should receive more consideration for future tournaments.


1st End: Carey confident heading into Scotties wild-card game

Calgary’s Chelsea Carey said she wanted to use the Meridian Canadian Open as an opportunity to ramp up for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts wild-card game. Consider it mission accomplished then as Carey captured her first GSOC championship.

Carey’s lone loss of the week came on the opening day against Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson, who she’ll coincidentally face off against Friday with the winner earning the final spot in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C.

“That’s as good as we could feel coming in against one of the best fields in the world,” Carey said following her 10-5 win over Michelle Englot in Sunday’s final. “Being able to come out on top is all we could dream of as far as going in with confidence. It’ll be a very tough game again against a really good team. We lost to them in the first game here so we know that we’ll have to be really good but feeling good about it.”

The scoreboard is a bit misleading as it was a tight back-and-forth battle until the “Chelsea dagger” in the eighth end with Carey delivering a double takeout to score four.

Carey bounced back from some tough recent losses including the Roar of the Rings final last month followed by back-to-back weeks leading up to the Meridian Canadian Open at the mixed doubles trials and Alberta Scotties.

“The longer we could have kept playing here is better for us,” third Cathy Overton-Clapham said. “To play on arena ice, the Alberta playdowns isn’t played on arena ice, so I felt like we had to take every opportunity we can to play on this. We played pretty consistently all week.”


2nd End: De Cruz puts Olympic field on notice

Meridian Canadian Open men’s champion Peter de Cruz is also feeling a boost as he gets set to represent Switzerland next month at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

De Cruz stole one in the seventh and two in the eighth to edge out Sweden’s Niklas Edin 5-3 for the title in a battle of Olympic proportions. It was the first GSOC trophy for de Cruz to boot as well.

“I think it’s good for our confidence to say even though we were down against the No. 1 team in the world or whomever, we always have a chance to come back if we stick in, if we stay there and put our shots in the right places,” de Cruz said. “Yeah, that’s really good for the confidence.”

Fourth Benoit Schwarz was a little more cautiously optimistic when it came to his team’s chances.

“I don’t know, maybe,” Schwarz said. “You can’t control that. We played well this week here. Of course we have to mention we were really lucky the ice was amazing. We could even test a rock during practice. It was perfect from practice time. It was a good week and we’re really happy with the performance and winning games is a bonus in this thing.”

De Cruz has been heating up the GSOC charts since qualifying for the first time at the Princess Auto Elite 10 last year and has only missed playoffs once in the series since.


3rd End: Koe, Homan tuned up for Pyeongchang

Canada’s Olympic teams both did quite well for themselves tuning up for the Winter Games.

Koe shook off a 0-2 start slipping into the C event by winning three consecutive games to qualify for the playoffs. None were easy dubs either having to defeat the likes of John Morris, Brad Gushue and John Epping plus a quarterfinal victory over red-hot Jason Gunnlaugson, who had advanced A-side at 3-0. Koe lost to Edin 6-5 in an extra end during the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Rachel Homan took the top-seed through the women’s triple knockout at 3-0. Homan topped reigning U.S. national champion Jamie Sinclair and U.S. Olympic qualifier Nina Roth in back-to-back draws and made the playoffs with a win over Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson.

Homan fell 7-4 in the quarterfinals to South Korea’s EunJung Kim, who will represent the host nation in the Winter Olympics. Kim was shooting the lights out including this one in the sixth end through a slim port to chip out Homan’s stone and score three points, which proved to be the difference-maker.


4th End: International teams stepping up to the plate

It was interesting the Meridian Canadian Open featured a second consecutive non-Canadian men’s final in the GSOC following the Boost National two months ago where Scotland’s Bruce Mouat downed Chang-Min Kim of South Korea.

That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing for the growth of the sport. The GSOC features the world’s top teams regardless of where they’re from to offer the best possible competitions. It’s a positive sign when you see more and more teams crossing the pond to compete and do well.

“The last few years it’s been more and more international teams coming to these events, playing good curling and beating the Canadian teams,” Team Edin third Oskar Eriksson said. “We saw the [National] final when we played the Europeans with Mouat against Kim. It was a great final and just wanted to be there but we still had to play the Europeans.”

Edin really made an impact last season capturing three titles plus the Bonus Cup as the overall season champion. Scotland’s Kyle Smith was runner-up to Edin at the 2016 Tour Challenge Tier 1 while Norway’s Steffen Walstad made his series debut at the start of the season in September’s Tour Challenge Tier 1 and reached the final no less.


5th End: Crash ‘n’ burn

The Meridian Canadian Open capped a busy three-week stretch for some teams following the mixed doubles trials and Continental Cup or provincial playdowns.

As expected, there were quite a few teams who were fighting fatigue not only physically but also mentally from disappointment.

Team Gushue was one of those teams who struggled at the Meridian Canadian Open going 1-3 and eliminated in the C-semifinals at the hands of Koe. Gushue had been in every final at the Meridian Canadian Open over the previous four seasons, with title wins in 2014 and last year, as this is usually the time of the season when his St. John’s, N.L., team kicks it into sixth gear. Gushue, who partnered with Val Sweeting in mixed doubles, reached the final at the trials — and one win away from the Winter Olympics — before losing to the duo of John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes.

Speaking of Sweeting, her Edmonton team went winless through the Meridian Canadian Open at 0-3. Team Sweeting had a similar start at the Roar of the Rings before turning things around and almost making the playoffs, but at the Meridian Canadian Open those three losses were all the action they’d get.

It wasn’t a problem for everyone though as the aforementioned Team Carey managed just fine en route to the title.


6th End: Sick shot of the week

The three clips we’ve already highlighted could qualify for the sick shot of the week award, but let’s pick something completely different.

Team Gushue third Mark Nichols made an incredible run quadruple takeout to declutter the house and set the table for his skip to score a deuce against Koe in the C-semifinals. What a manoeuvre!


7th End: Quick hits

- Laycock was the super spare of the week filling in for skip Brendan Bottcher on the Edmonton squad. Team Bottcher qualified for the playoffs through the B event but fell to de Cruz in the quarterfinals. No shame losing to the eventual champs.

- Matt Dunstone wasn’t money this time. Team Laycock’s fourth stones thrower subbed for Jim Cotter on Team Morris but the team went 0-3, which means they actually lost money on the excursion having to pay up the entry fee.

- With Lawes heading to the Winter Olympics in mixed doubles, Shannon Birchard will sub at third on Jennifer Jones’s team during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Birchard got in some early reps at the Meridian Canadian Open playing three games during the triple knockout and helping the Winnipeg team win twice. Birchard was practically perfect shooting 99 percent during Jones’s 9-3 victory over Einarson in the B-finals to qualify for the playoffs.

The 23-year-old Birchard, who skips her own squad on tour, said it’s super surreal to play alongside one of the all-time greats.

“It’s super exciting and it’s quite the honour to have been chosen,” she said. “It’s been great so far out here, I feel really comfortable and they’ve made me feel super welcomed on the team. I’m just really excited for next week.”

- Two-time Canadian champion Heather Nedohin made a last-minute appearance sparring for skip Casey Scheidegger, who had prior work commitments, during Draw 3. Nedohin stepped back from competitive curling in 2015 and provided colour commentary during the Alberta Scotties on Sportsnet the previous weekend, coincidentally, won by Scheidegger. Nedohin just played the one match — a 7-3 loss to Allison Flaxey — as Scheidegger returned for the team’s remaining games.

- A couple celebrities were in the house. Canadian country music star Brett Kissel hit the ice for practice with Team Homan.

“It was his first time out and he looked great,” Homan said. “He watches it a lot, I know he cheers us on and we love his music so it was a great combo.”

kissel

Brett Kissel shoots a stone during a practice with Team Homan. (Anil Mungal)

Edmonton Eskimos place kicker Sean Whyte was among the fans in the stands Friday night taking in the action. Whyte’s presence could explain the football score for Reid Carruthers, who clobbered John Shuster 9-3 including an unconverted touchdown in the third end. Carruthers scored the extra point in the fourth on a steal.


8th End: Next up for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling is now on a bit of a break until the Princess Auto Elite 10, March 15-18, at Winnipeg’s St. James Civic Centre. The top 10 men’s teams of the season will clash under match play scoring rules.

Full tournament packages and single-draw tickets are available, visit Elite10.goigniter.com to purchase yours today.

Tickets are also available for the Players’ Championship, April 10-15, in Toronto at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre and the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup, April 24-29, at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. Click here for more details.


Extra End

It’s all about helping kids at the GSOC. Master of ceremonies Peter Steski saw 11-year-old Aryn in the crowd taking pictures. Steski brought Aryn down rink side to get as close as possible to the action with event photographer Anil Mungal teaching her some tricks.

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