Eight Ends: Top Pinty’s GSOC moments of 2016
December 30, 2016, 11:32 AM
The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling record book was rewritten in 2016 with a few first-time champions and remarkable feats accomplished through the year.
Before we flip the calendar and say hello to 2017, let’s look back at the top moments of the series during the past year.
1st End: Homan faces the men at Elite 10
Rachel Homan and her Ottawa crew silenced the skeptics and chipped away at the gender gap in the sport taking on the top men’s teams at the Elite 10 (March 16-20, Victoria). It was the first time a women’s team faced the men in a GSOC event since 2002 and Homan entered the books again by defeating Charley Thomas to become the first women’s rink to win a game against a top-ranked men’s team in the series.
2nd End: Everything to do with Brad Gushue
What a crazy year it was for Brad Gushue and his team. The St. John’s, N.L., squad won back-to-back Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles taking the Elite 10 and the Players’ Championship — posting perfect records at both events — and clinched the Rogers Grand Slam Cup. The Players’ victory completed a career Grand Slam — winning the original four GSOC tournaments — with Gushue joining the shortlist of Kevin Martin, Wayne Middaugh, Glenn Howard and Jeff Stoughton as skips who have completed the feat.
Few knew at the time though Gushue was playing through a lingering hip/groin problem that only got worse and forced him to miss the first eight events of 2016-17. The team carried on in a key season for points towards Olympic Trials qualification with third Mark Nichols moving up to skip and Thomas, Pat Simmons and Adam Spencer filling in at various points. The modified Team Gushue never missed the playoffs and maintained their No. 1 ranking on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit.
Gushue returned in time for the Boost National in December reaching the semifinals by coincidentally defeating Thomas and his team in the quarters.
3rd End: Muirhead wins 3rd Players’ title in Toronto
At this rate, they might as well rename Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre the Muirhead Athletic Centre. The Toronto venue has hosted the Players’ Championship three times in the past four years and Scotland’s Eve Muirhead has walked away with the women’s title on all three occasions.
This time around was a little different. Third Anna Sloan was out with a knee injury, but in came Cathy Overton-Clapham, who worked her “super spare” magic to help Muirhead stay on top defeating Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones in the final.
4th End: Carruthers captures 1st GSOC title as a skip
Solid strategy: blank the ninth end to retain the hammer for the 10th. Except these are only eight end games!
Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers and Toronto’s John Epping pushed the season into overtime during the Humpty’s Champions Cup men’s final (May 1, Sherwood Park, Alta.), the last game of 2015-16. Carruthers hit and rolled out with his last in the extra end and after a measurement ruled all of the rocks were out of the house it was onto the second extra end.
Carruthers made no mistake the second time around, more on that shot in a moment.
4th End Break: Shots of the year
We’re splitting up the “2016 shot of the year” into two categories: draw and hit.
Top draw: We had to go with Carruthers’s last to win the Humpty’s Champions Cup. Add in the drama and high-pressure of a second extra end and the fact that it almost looked like Carruthers had overthrown it, with third Braeden Moskowy dropping to his knees, but then it hit the brakes just in time for the victory.
Top hit: Niklas Edin of Sweden earns the honours here with his shot in the extra end of the WFG Masters men’s final (Oct. 30, Okotoks, Alta.) against Jacobs. Facing a quarry of granite in the free-guard zone, Edin made a double raise to get to one his own that bounced off another stone and took out Jacobs’s shot rock in the house. The incredible shot set the stage for Edin to steal and win his first career Grand Slam title.
Misplay of the Year: Team Edin’s Oskar Eriksson was frustrated after missing a shot during the Humpty’s Champions Cup and tossed his water bottle, which knocked all of the numbers off of the scoreboard.
5th End: Edin takes two
Speaking of Edin, the WFG Masters victory was also historic as it was the first for a non-Canadian men’s team in the series. While it may have taken Edin many years to win his first, his second came much quicker — two weeks in fact.
Edin was back in the winner’s circle at the very next Pinty’s GSOC event, the Tour Challenge, defeating Scotland’s Kyle Smith in the men’s final (Nov. 13, Cranbrook, B.C.).
Rookie second Rasmus Wrana started off his Pinty’s GSOC career going 2-for-2. Edin credited the addition of Wrana plus the new brush/sweeping rules for finally breaking through to victory on the GSOC circuit.
“I think the whole new brush situation has just given us so much motivation this season,” Edin said following the Tour Challenge win. “Last year having an injury in Kristian [Lindstroem] and you needed a lot of pressure to get effect with those brushes and we couldn’t really do that. He had a really bad shoulder and had surgery so we didn’t really get the chance last year we felt.”
6th End: Flaxey wins 1st Grand Slam at WFG Masters
Allison Flaxey of Caledon, Ont., had a miraculous turn of events at the WFG Masters. Flaxey stole her way through the tiebreaker, quarterfinals and semifinals stages to take on three-time event winner Homan in the final. Flaxey didn’t need to ride the steal train again and was in control to defeat her provincial rival 6-3 to capture her first career Grand Slam title.
7th End: Savill makes curling comeback
Craig Savill was forced to step back from competitive curling last year as he battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Once he found out his cancer was in remission, the 12-time Grand Slam champion was determined to return to the sport. Although he initially planned to just play in a few local tournaments, that all changed when he received an offer to join Team Thomas full-time and it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
8th End: Jacobs ends the hometown curse
Over the past few seasons, it seemed like hometown teams would come up just short in Pinty’s GSOC finals. Even Jacobs was no exception as he fell to Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen on home ice during the 2014 National.
Redemption time came when the event rolled back through the Soo earlier this month as Jacobs punched his ticket into the Boost National championship game (Dec. 11). Jacobs faced Carruthers, who was red-hot fresh off of capturing the Canada Cup and riding a six-game winning streak in the Boost National.
Jacobs stole his way into the lead and held on to swipe another point in the final end as the crowd went into a frenzy.
Extra End: Einarson emerges
It’s been quite the breakout year for Kerri Einarson and her East St. Paul, Man., crew. Einarson was runner-up at the Manitoba Scotties the previous two seasons and the third time was the charm as she earned the Buffalo patch to represent the province at the national championship.
Einarson also scored a huge comeback victory over Homan during the Players’ Championship quarterfinals rallying back from a four-point deficit to steal three consecutive ends. Einarson’s 7-6 win denied Homan a chance to sweep the four Grand Slam majors in a single season.
Team Einarson struggled a bit to start 2016-17, but they shook it off with a convincing run at the Boost National capped with a win over Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni to earn their first Grand Slam title.
Double Extra End (because that’s how we do things around here)
Some honourable mentions to make note of in 2016:
– Team Homan took the 2015-16 Rogers Grand Slam Cup early needing just two round-robin wins in the Players’ Championship to clinch the season title.
– In a battle of two Team Canada squads, the juniors topped the women’s with Kristin Clarke’s crew earning a shocking upset over Chelsea Carey during the Humpty’s Champions Cup round-robin.
– Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones captured her record sixth Pinty’s GSOC women’s title defeating Homan in the Humpty’s Champions Cup final.
– While not strictly a GSOC issue, last season’s brush and sweeping controversy was like a dark cloud hovering over every event. A summit was held over the summer featuring players, officials, manufacturers and even the National Research Council of Canada was involved to help break down the problem and find a solution. A formal list of new rules was released in September, which were adopted by the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series.
– Edmonton’s Val Sweeting scored her second career Pinty’s GSOC title defeating Michelle Englot at the Tour Challenge.
– Northern Ontario junior star Tanner Horgan took some lumps as the sponsor’s exemption at the Boost National, but went out on a high note stealing in an extra end to edge Steve Laycock.