Brendan Bottcher shoots a stone during the Humpty's Champions Cup men's final on April 28, 2019, in Saskatoon. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends: Bottcher proving he belongs among GSOC’s best

April 30, 2019, 3:16 PM

SASKATOON — The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season ended with a bang at the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher made it three titles in a row in the series with a 6-5 extra-end win over Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe during another epic Battle of Alberta men’s final Sunday in front of a near-capacity crowd at Merlis Belsher Place.

Reigning world champions Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland defeated Players’ champions Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 6-3 in the women’s final to end an amazing first season for the retooled roster.

Here are takeaways in Eight Ends from the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

1st End: Bottcher proving he belongs

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling has been a proving ground for Bottcher this season.

Bottcher competed in four of the seven events in the series during 2018-19 but reached the final all four times with three consecutive title wins to finish the year. He joined an exclusive group too as Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard and Rachel Homan are the only other skips to accomplish the three-peat feat in the series.

While it may appear like Bottcher has stamped his spot among the best in the game, he still looks around the field and sees those like Brad Gushue, Kevin Koe, Niklas Edin, etc., who have been there for over a decade and believes there’s more work to be done to establish his team.

“We’re playing against some of the game’s greatest of all time, still,” Bottcher said. “I’m sure we’ve proven ourselves these last couple months but those guys have been proving themselves for 10, 12, 15 years, so in my opinion, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Hopefully, we can come out and put together some good events next year as well.”

Complacency is the enemy as Bottcher knows you can’t sit back with others pushing themselves just hard to reclaim the throne.

“The guys at the top are trying to get better too,” he said. “If you’re at the top and you’re not trying to get better, you’re not going to be at the top for very long.”

2nd End: The best is yet to come for Team Tirinzoni

Skip Silvana Tirinzoni is amazed at how easy establishing chemistry with her team has come this season.

Second Esther Neuenschwander was the only returning member from Tirinzoni’s Swiss Olympic squad with former skips Alina Paetz and Melanie Barbezat joining the fold. Tirinzoni also shifted in the throwing order to third in order to accommodate the addition of Paetz at fourth.

“It’s like hard to believe, actually, that it worked so fast,” Tirinzoni said. “Also, we played different positions, so I was thinking we’d need some more time to adjust but it has been a great start at the beginning of the season already and we were able to actually finish it off on a high, so really, really proud of the team.”

On top of their world and Humpty’s Champions Cup titles, Team Tirinzoni also finished runner-up at two other Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events.

“We didn’t expect to be like that so yeah, it’s crazy but I think we really deserved it,” Paetz said. “We worked so hard, especially last summer before the season, so it’s special feelings.”

There is room for improvement of course as the highs were also met with lows such as the Players’ Championship a few weeks ago where they struck out with a 1-4 record to miss the playoffs.

“I think we still have a lot of potential,” Tirinzoni said. “Sometimes we were a little bit inconsistent but I’m not too worried, actually. I think everything is possible in that team.”

3rd End: Einarson’s incredible season continues

Team Einarson is in the same boat as Tirinzoni with a stunning first season for a new squad to start the Olympic cycle.

Einarson has played in 10 finals with five title wins including the prestigious Players’ Championship. That’s an outstanding run for any team never mind a first-year team, especially when you consider they have three former skips in Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur learning new positions.

Their season isn’t over either with Birchard set to join Jennifer Jones’s club for the Curling World Cup finale in China and the whole squad competing in the WCT Arctic Cup in Russia at the end of May.

4th End: Koe keeping ahead of pace

Speaking of incredible seasons for first-year teams, how about Brier champions and world silver medallists Team Koe?

Koe finished runner-up in three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events this season and won the Pinty’s Cup. It was the first time Koe won the Pinty’s Cup in his career, which speaks more to the consistency over the course of the season as they never missed the playoffs. Even looking beyond the Grand Slam series and they qualified in all 14 events they competed in with one more tournament more ahead at the Curling World Cup finale.

Compare that to Team Koe’s first year of the previous Olympic cycle where they reached zero Grand Slam finals and didn’t qualify for the medal round at the Brier and you could say they’re ahead of schedule in terms of where they’re trending. Considering that team went to the Olympics, yeah they’re heading in the right direction.

5th End: Silvernagle shines in home-province event

Robyn Silvernagle capped her breakout season with another stellar performance at the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Silvernagle, from North Battleford, Sask., also competed in her first three top-tier Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments and reached the playoffs all three times. Silvernagle ended her stunning season with a quarterfinal-run in the Humpty’s Champions Cup losing a 4-3 decision to Tirinzoni.

The #SilverSquad filled the building to support their provincial champions with signs and cowbells clanging throughout Merlis Belsher Place and Team Silvernagle fed off of that electric energy.

“Every time they cheer, those cowbells are awesome,” Silvernagle said. “All the signs that everyone has is incredible and we’re just loving the support. We really appreciate all the support that we’ve been getting.”

6th End: Super spares of the week

Unlike the Players’ Championship where Taylor McDonald won the “super spare of the week” award by default (as the only spare until her skip Laura Walker entered the equation late into the event), a plethora of spares were on hand at the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Scotland’s Eve Muirhead takes the honour on the women’s side filling in for Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg, who was just a little busy winning gold at the world mixed doubles. Muirhead was tops among all skips shooting 87.6 percent and Team Hasselborg finished first as a unit as well firing 88.6 percent. They were sharp in the quarterfinals, in particular, averaging 98 percent in the 8-2 victory over Team Flaxey, who also had a spare skip in Walker. Their solid run ended on a downer in the semis though as they were up two heading into the final frame but misfired their last allowing Einarson to draw for three and the 5-4 win.

John Morris of Canmore, Alta., earned the non-existent award in the men’s division skipping John Shuster’s U.S. squad into the quarterfinals. Morris, who opted to focus on mixed doubles this season, was pumped to return to the series and really fit in with his Continental Cup mates. The feeling was mutual as here’s what second Matt Hamilton had to say about Morris: “He’s an absolute beauty, so it’s easy to have fun and enjoy it.”

7th End: End of an era for Team Jacobs

As Brad Jacobs and his Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., crew saw their season finish in the quarterfinals to Bottcher, so to did their seven-year tenure with third Ryan Fry.

Fry was like the missing brother for the Jacobs/Harnden clan and helped the team reach new heights elevating to Brier and Olympic gold plus four Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championships. Team Jacobs also brought more mainstream attention to the sport due to their fitness-focused work ethic.

“We came together, we pretty much accomplished everything we wanted to,” Fry said. “We made an impact on the sport as a team and I couldn’t be more happy to have spent the last seven years together.”

As one chapter ends, another one begins and Fry is looking forward to moving back to Toronto and teaming up with longtime friend John Epping.

“Any time you get to challenge yourself and have new experiences, it’s going to be something that I’m going to look forward to,” Fry said. “You get to grow as a player and as a man with the new guys. That’s the main thing, that’s the biggest reason for the change is just not becoming stagnant and becoming repetitive and what you do in life. It’s just going to be a new set of challenges and I’m looking forward to it.”

It’ll be a fresh start for Team Jacobs as well as they welcome Marc Kennedy to the squad next season. The 12-time Grand Slam champion from St. Albert, Alta., took this past season off and is now recharged and ready to go again.

8th End: See you in October

That concludes the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. We’ll be back in the fall for the 2019-20 campaign starting with the Canadian Beef Masters taking place Oct. 22-27 at Memorial Gardens in North Bay, Ont.

We’re stoked to return to Northern Ontario and get your moose calls ready as tickets are available now, visit thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets for more information.

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