Brad Gushue shoots a stone during the Princess Auto Elite 10 men's final on Sept. 30, 2018, in Chatham-Kent, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends: Gushue, Jones take on the world at China Open

October 16, 2018, 2:46 PM

China’s all-in approach to curling takes another big step this week on the road to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

The China Open is underway in Chongqing featuring eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams representing their respective nations in a mini-World Cup. Both divisions hold a hefty $100,000 purse with a full seven-game round-robin and the top four teams qualifying for the playoffs. Reigning national champions Team Gushue and Team Jones headline their respective fields wearing the maple leaf for Canada.

This event follows another recent high-profile tournament in China with Suzhou holding last month’s inaugural Curling World Cup, a four-event series supported by China-based company Kingdomway Sports. That’s not all as the Qinghai Curling Elite will take place in Xining in mid-December and Beijing hosts the final Curling World Cup stop in May.

On top of that, we’ve seen a handful of Chinese teams competing weekly across the World Curling Tour. There is no incumbent with neither Rui Liu nor Bingyu Wang skipping these squads, which has created a wide-open race to decide a front-runner.

It’ll be intriguing to see how it all continues to shape up as we draw closer to the Olympics.

1st End: Gushue vs. the world

Brad Gushue admitted he had never heard of Chongqing before but that didn’t stop him from signing up his team for the China Open.

If you’re like Gushue, then you should know the municipality of Chongqing has a population of over 32 million, just a few million less than the entire population of Canada.

It’s more than just another tournament for the back-to-back Brier champion Gushue, who looks at the event as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We figured it was kind of a bucket list item to go to China and experience that,” Gushue said last month after winning the Princess Auto Elite 10. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a long trip but it’s just one of those things that I think in 20, 30 years you can say I went to China and curled and I got to see that part of the world.”

It’s just the second event of the season for the St. John’s, N.L., club after they kicked things off in high gear capturing the team’s 11th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title in Chatham-Kent, Ont.

“It’ll be exciting,” Team Gushue third Mark Nichols said. “I mean, we’ve never been there, so it’s an event that we can check off in terms of a country we’ve never been in. It’ll be a good opportunity for us to get away, do some more team bonding. I don’t know how much more team bonding this team can do but it’s fun being on the road with these guys. We have a lot of fun together.

“The middle of October will be a long few weeks on the road but hopefully, we can continue our good play and get a little bit better.”

2nd End: From China to Truro

Team Gushue and Team Jones will have a tight turnaround from the China Open straight to the Canadian Beef Masters. The China Open wraps up Monday, should Gushue and Jones reach their respective finals, and then jet to Truro, N.S., for the second Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of the season where they both happen to be the defending champions.

Gushue and Jones get a slight break to catch their breath in Truro as neither team plays their first round-robin game until the fifth draw Wednesday evening. The jet lag will be a real factor travelling from one side of the planet to the other but as we usually say, there’s no rest for the world’s best.

3rd End: Success surprises Einarson

No team has flown out of the gate faster this season than Team Einarson. The all-new Gimli, Man., squad featuring skip Kerri Einarson plus former skips Val Sweeting (third), Shannon Birchard (second) and Briane Meilleur (lead) have already captured four titles on tour.

Their success has surprised many but none more so than the team themselves as they’re still working on their chemistry and learning each other’s tendencies.

“I think we were pretty surprised by our success so early,” Einarson said Monday in a phone interview. “We didn’t expect it this soon but it’s always good to get off to a great start and build that confidence.”

Check back next week for an in-depth feature on Team Einarson as they’ll face their first “major test” together at the Canadian Beef Masters.

4th End: Bottcher continues to make up for lost time

Edmonton’s Team Bottcher started their season a little later than most but are quickly catching up.

Bottcher claimed the Canad Inns Men’s Classic title in Portage la Prairie, Man., halting Calgary’s Team Koe 7-5 in Monday’s Battle of Alberta final.

The team of skip Brendan Bottcher, third Darren Moulding, second Bradley Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin finished the tournament undefeated with a 6-0 record.

Team Bottcher continued their strong play from their season debut during the previous weekend at the StuSells Toronto Tankard where they reached the semifinals.

5th End: Week 9 tour roundup

It was a busy week on tour, here’s a quick rundown covering the rest of the action:

Women’s Masters Basel (Basel, Switzerland): Team Stern captured the title following a 6-4 victory over Team Feltscher in Sunday’s all-Swiss final. Stern stormed through the tournament finishing with an unblemished 6-0 record.

Stroud Sleeman Cash Spiel (Stroud, Ont.): Team Gardner edged Team Marshall 5-4 in an extra end Sunday for the women’s title. Team Willsey downed Team Heggestad 8-1 in five ends for the men’s championship.

Atkins Curling Supplies Classic (Winnipeg): Team Spencer took the women’s title with a 5-1 win over Team Watling in Monday’s final and Team Chambers was victorious on the men’s side beating Team Dilello 7-2.

McKee Homes Fall Curling Classic (Airdrie, Alta.): Team Harty came out on top stealing away to a 5-1 win over Team Meek in Sunday’s final. Harty broke a 1-1 tie with a single steal in the fourth, swiped another in the fifth and pirated a pair of points in the sixth.

Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel (Abbotsford, B.C.): Team Wark topped Team Brown 8-3 Sunday to claim the women’s title and Japan’s Team Matsumura picked up their second tour title of the season defeating reigning B.C. champs Team Geall 7-1 in the men’s final.

6th End: What else is on tap this week

Besides the China Open, there’s plenty on the go later this week.

First up is take two in Portage la Prairie for the Canad Inns Women’s Classic. It’s a packed 32-team field featuring the aforementioned Team Einarson looking to add a fifth title to the collection this season. The field also includes Edmonton’s Team Carey, Winnipeg’s Team Fleury, Scotland’s Team Muirhead, Japan’s Team Fujisawa, reigning champions Team Roth from the U.S. and more.

Meanwhile, Bottcher will compete for the third consecutive week on tour at the Medicine Hat Charity Classic where his team also happens to be the defending champions.

The men’s teams are split up elsewhere for the Curling Masters Champery in Switzerland and the Challenge de Curling de Gatineau in Quebec. Sweden’s Team Edin are the double defending champs in Champery and are coming off a title win in Switzerland just two weekends ago at the Swiss Cup Basel. Toronto’s Team Epping headlines the field in Gatineau but also keep your eyes on Team Thompson of Dartmouth, N.S., as they’ll be following up a sharp runner-up performance at the StuSells Toronto Tankard.

7th End: One week to Canadian Beef Masters

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season resumes at this time next week for the Canadian Beef Masters, Oct. 23-28 at Rath Eastlink Community Centre in Truro, N.S.

The draw schedule has been released, click here to see the full slate of round-robin matches.

Tickets are available at ticketpro.ca or by calling 1-888-311-9090.

8th End: Tour Challenge coming up in Thunder Bay

We’re also only three weeks away from the Tour Challenge, stop No. 3 on the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling circuit, taking place Nov. 6-11 at Tournament Centre in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Full-event passes are sold out but a very limited number of tickets for round-robin draws are available at tourchallenge.goigniter.com.

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