Liz Fyfe (left) and Kristin MacCuish (right) sweep a stone during the 2017 Masters in Lloydminster, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

GSOC reaches parity with women’s field included at Elite 10

September 25, 2018, 2:16 PM

Team Fleury second Liz Fyfe said it’s super cool competing in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling knowing her dad was instrumental in building the series during its early days.

Fyfe’s father, the late Vic Peters, was one of the trailblazing Original 18 skips in the inaugural 2001-02 season. The Original 18 opted out of playdowns initially, sacrificing potential Brier and world championship appearances, to help the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling and its four men’s events get off the ground and set the foundation for what it has become today.

The series has expanded in recent years and now enters its 18th season featuring not only seven men’s tournaments but seven women’s tournaments as well. Parity has been reached with the women’s teams joining the men at the Princess Auto Elite 10 for the first time this year.

Winnipeg-based Team Fleury will compete in the inaugural Princess Auto Elite 10 women’s division — which begins Wednesday evening at Thames Campus Arena in Chatham-Kent, Ont. — as Fyfe is now the one playing an integral role as the series take this next step on the path that her father started with the Original 18.

“I never really thought about it much until I was a part of it,” said Fyfe, who joined Team Fleury this season. “I was pretty young when that was happening with him, so I didn’t really know the whole situation but now that I do know it’s really amazing to be a part of something that he helped build. It’s cool.”

Princess Auto Elite 10: Tickets | Teams | Draw Schedule | Broadcast Schedule

The Players’ Championship was the first of the original four majors to add a women’s field in 2006 but it wasn’t until Sportsnet acquired the series in 2012 when things started to snowball. Sportsnet added women’s fields over the years to the other three majors (Masters, National and Canadian Open) and created three additional events: the Elite 10, Tour Challenge and Champions Cup.

The Elite 10 was the outlier as the lone men’s invitational mainly because it fell on the same weekend as the start of the world women’s championship in March. That has changed now with the series moving the event to the beginning of the season in late September.

“When you look at how far it’s come over the last however many years, it’s amazing that the women have all of the same opportunities as the men,” Fyfe said. “We couldn’t be happier to be a part of them, for sure.”

“The more the better,” added Fyfe’s skip, Tracy Fleury. “They’re great events. The athletes really like playing in them. It’s on great ice conditions and against great competition so we love the Slams.”

Fyfe’s former club, Team Einarson, were one of the teams who benefited greatly from the expansion. They were the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 2 women’s champions in 2015 earning direct entry into the following event, the Masters. There they proved they belonged among the best reaching the semifinals and eliminating Tour Challenge Tier 1 winners Team Tirinzoni in the quarterfinals along the way.

Team Einarson also earned the 2016 Boost National and won the Tour Challenge Tier 2 again last season to reclaim a spot at the Masters where they were finalists. The team concluded their tenure together in April finishing runner-up at the Humpty’s Champions Cup. All events highlighted did not exist prior to 2012.

“I think that was a huge step for our team and for the whole series,” Fyfe said. “It showed that it worked; the process worked. We haven’t been a part of it as long to see the progression but we kind of just came in at the right time when it was starting to grow even more.”

American skip Jamie Sinclair is also pleased to play a key role in the progression of women’s curling.

“I have such a passion for the sport, I want to see it grow and get bigger, and any changes that we do it seems to be all in line and for the greater good,” Sinclair said. “It’s really exciting to see and to be a part of as well.”

Lynn Kreviazuk and Val Sweeting might not be competing in the Princess Auto Elite 10 but they’re both happy to have gender equality in the series.

“I was really excited to see they have the women’s side at the Elite 10,” said Kreviazuk, who plays second on Team Harrison. “I like that it was positioned early in the year too, I think that was very smart. It’s nice to see that women’s curling is just as competitive as the men’s. The viewership is there as well. There’s no reason why we can’t be on par with the men’s.”

“It’s great that the women are there and it’s great exposure for us,” added Sweeting, who throws third for the new Team Einarson. “More opportunities for us. We wish we were there but it’s great overall for the game and it’ll be a good event still.”

Women’s teams have had to take a crash course in match play rules during the off-season with the Princess Auto Elite 10 featuring a different format than the other six events in the series. The unique rules change up the scoring formula where it’s not how many total rocks you score but how many ends you win that decides the game’s victor.

Teams must either count two or more rocks with the hammer or steal at least one without the hammer to score a point. Singles and blanks net zero points plus a loss of hammer for the following end. It’s similar to a skins game only in match play there are no carryovers; all ends are worth one point each should scoring occur.

“It’s a format we’re not used to, so that makes it kind of exciting and [we're] learning a new style,” Fleury said. “We think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling has added additional rules to the Princess Auto Elite 10 over the years. Rocks sitting on the centre line cannot be ticked until the sixth rock of the end, stopwatches have been banned and teams are given four minutes of thinking time per end instead of a running 33-minute total.

“I know there are the stopwatches and stuff but we don’t rely on stopwatches too much so we might be able to get by there,” Sinclair said. “The tick rule you can get around but the four minutes an end might be the most challenging one for us.”

Although it’s the first women’s Princess Auto Elite 10, it’s not the first for Team Homan, who competed against the men in the 2016 event. Still, the thinking time change was only introduced last season and everyone will be in the same boat and possibly learning on the fly as the event progresses. Besides, it’s not like the teams haven’t been paying attention to the previous Princess Auto Elite 10 events.

“It’s a lot of change all at once but at least we have watched the Elite 10 before on TV,” Fleury said. “[We’re] a little bit familiar with the strategy, so that’ll help.”

The rules may give Team Fleury some headaches but that hasn’t diminished their excitement to make Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling history.

“It’s a really big opportunity for us and it’s pretty cool to be a part of that field for the first time ever,” Fyfe said. “We’re pumped.”