OKOTOKS, Alta. — Allison Flaxey rode the steal train all the way to her first career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling final at the WFG Masters.
Flaxey wrapped up round-robin play with a 2-2 record and need to win three times on a long Saturday in order to punch her ticket to Sunday’s final.
Consider that easier said than done, however, the Caledon, Ont., team of Flaxey, third Clancy Grandy, second Lynn Kreviazuk and lead Morgan Court overcame the odds kicking into high gear and never easing off the pedal as they stole their way in all three games to clinch a spot in the championship game against defending champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa.
“We were able to put some rocks in really good spots early and then it’s all about seeing if their skip can capitalize and we got a little fortunate sometimes,” Kreviazuk said. “We knew how to really capitalize on their misses so it worked out for us.”
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Following an early morning tiebreaker win over Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson and a victory over top-seed EunJung Kim of South Korea in the quarterfinals, Flaxey trounced Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni 8-1 during the semis.
“It feels really good,” Kreviazuk said. “We’re really, really proud of ourselves to have accomplished that. We had some really close games in round-robin and we were a little, I think, upset that we came out 2-2 especially since we had such an unfortunate shootout record so we knew that we needed some things to go our way.
“We came together, had a great tiebreaker this morning against Einarson and then we knew that it was going to be a hopeful three-game day so we did really good to prepare ourselves for it.”
After Tirinzoni blanked the first end, it was thievery for Flaxey. She stole a point in the second and swiped two more in the third as Tirinzoni rolled heavy on her last. Flaxey added a big four score in the fourth to all but ice the game when Tirinzoni crashed on a guard with her final rock. Flaxey didn’t let up and continued to put on the pressure in five forcing Tirinzoni to draw against a quarry of counters and matched with a point in six to bring out handshakes.
Meanwhile, Homan completed a 7-4 comeback victory to cool off the previously undefeated Anna Hasselborg of Sweden.
Homan fell behind 3-0 in the first end and charged back with a two count in the second and a steal of one in the third to knot it up.
Hasselborg, playing just her second elite-level Pinty’s GSOC event, counted a single in four and it was all Homan from there scoring a pair in five and back-to-back steals in seven and eight.
It wasn’t Homan’s first rebound of the day even as she scored two in the eighth and stole in an extra end to edge Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones during the quarterfinals.
“We were actually down in our first game today too and it was later in the game,” Team Homan third Emma Miskew said. “Being down three after the first we were like, ‘well we have seven ends left,’ so just keep trying to take two and force and if we just do that for a few ends then we’ll have the lead and that’s kind of what we did. We battled some tougher conditions and we’re pretty happy with how we were able to execute especially in the second half.”
The big workhorse of the day was Team Flaxey coach Caleb Flaxey, who was behind the boards for all four draws pulling double duty not only coaching his wife Allison’s team to the final but also guiding Team Brad Jacobs to the championship game on the men’s side against Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin.
“Today was a pretty long day,” said Caleb, who earned the Olympic gold medal as the fifth for Team Jacobs in 2014. “We had a 5 a.m. wakeup call because the girls had a 7:30 game. We were here at the rink at 6:30. It was a heck of a grind but I’d rather be at these games than not have to be at these games so it’s great.”
While it was awkward for him to bounce from one sheet to the other after Allison’s game wrapped up early, Caleb was proud for both of his teams powering through to Sunday.
“These teams earned their way into the finals. Both these teams put in a lot of work in the off-season and it’s resulted into two really good starts to the season so far,” he said. “Now being in this first big event, the first Slam, the hard work is really showing. They’ve earned this so it’s good.”
While Team Flaxey play in their first Grand Slam final, it will be Homan’s 11th as the five-time Grand Slam champion has built a legacy at the Masters with three titles in the four previous years.
Team Homan also includes second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle.
“It’s kind of cool,” Miskew said. “We don’t really think about which Grand Slam event we’re in, we’re just trying to get to the final of every single Slam and we have a pretty good history of doing that at a lot of them. This is just another one for us.
“I mean, it’s great and we’re really excited that we’re the defending champs and we want to come out here tomorrow and play well and hopefully defend our title.”
There is history between the Ontario teams as Lynn’s sister Alison Kreviazuk won back-to-back Masters titles with Team Homan in 2012 and 2013. Lynn herself also played alongside Homan and Miskew for a number of years winning a gold medal at the 2007 Canada Winter Games plus a Canadian junior title and silver at the world juniors in 2010.
“It feels the same, it feels like we’re playing any other team but it’s also a little bit special because we have such a good relationship, we’ve played together before and we’re friends,” Kreviazuk said. “We have played Rachel already once this season so we’re comfortable. It’ll be nice. It’s always nice playing friends.”
The WFG Masters women’s final follows the men’s championship game, between Jacobs and Edin, which starts at 11 a.m. MT on CBC.