Brad Jacobs delivers a stone during the Masters quarterfinals on Oct. 28, 2017, in Lloydminster, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends: The 411 on the 2017 BOOST National

November 13, 2017, 3:52 PM

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — It’s crunch time for teams entering the BOOST National.

With less than a month to go until the Roar of the Rings in Ottawa, the BOOST National represents the last major test before the tournament to decide the Canadian men’s and women’s teams for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know ahead of the BOOST National in Eight Ends.

Quick Links: Tickets | Teams | Draw Schedule | TV Schedule

1st End: A brief history of the BOOST National

The BOOST National is the third tournament and second major of the 2017-18 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. What makes the BOOST National a major as opposed to a regular event? It’s one of the original four Grand Slam tournaments — alongside the Masters, Canadian Open and Players’ Championship — and has been held every season since 2001-02.

The first National tournament also took place in Sault Ste. Marie, coincidentally, at the old Sault Memorial Gardens. Glenn Howard defeated Greg McAulay for the inaugural title, although the interesting nugget from that one is snow fell through the roof vents and forced organizers to switch the final to an adjacent sheet.

Howard, Kevin Martin and Wayne Middaugh share the record for most National titles captured at four apiece. A women’s division was added in 2015 with Rachel Homan winning the first championship and Kerri Einarson claiming it a year ago.

This season marks the second consecutive year Sault Ste. Marie has hosted the BOOST National — now at the Essar Centre — and third time in four years. Hometown hero Brad Jacobs reached the final in 2014 but fell to Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen. Jacobs was able to pull it off last season though defeating Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers in the championship game. Jacobs and his team are super stoked to defend their title on home ice, check out our Friday Feature for more.

2nd End: What’s at stake?

The winning teams each receive $30,000 of the $250,000 total purse (all figures in Canadian dollars). Teams also earn points towards the Bonus Cup, awarded annually to the season champions with additional prize money. They’re also battling for World Curling Tour Order of Merit points, which will ensure whether or not they qualify for future Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments.

Finally, the winners also qualify for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup running April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.

3rd End: When we last left our heroes

In case you’re just joining us here’s a quick recap of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season so far.

The Tour Challenge kicked things off with two tiers of action in early September in Regina. Tier 1 featured the elite teams. Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., took the men’s title finishing undefeated at 7-0 while Edmonton’s Val Sweeting captured the women’s championship with a perfect record as well.

Tier 2 highlighted the rising stars and those looking to work their way back to the top. Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson and Kerri Einarson earned the Tier 2 titles to earn berths to the Masters, which took place last month in Lloydminster on the Saskatchewan side of the border (by a couple streets).

Gushue extended the winning streak to 14-0 running right through the Masters. It was a repeat of the world championship final for the men’s title with gold medallist Gushue topping runner-up Niklas Edin of Sweden. Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones posted an unblemished record on the women’s side capping things off with a win over Einarson in the championship match.

4th End: Late registration

Before we dive deeper into the BOOST National, here’s a quick recap of this past weekend’s Road to the Roar curling pre-trials in Summerside, P.E.I., for the final spots into the big show.

John Morris and his team from Vernon, B.C., and Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher locked down the two remaining men’s spots for the Roar of the Rings while two Ontario teams — Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay and Julie Tippin of Woodstock — made it through on the women’s side.

Morris didn’t get out to an ideal start and shuffled the deck. The 2010 Olympic gold medallist, who normally tosses third stones while skipping, switched with fourth Jim Cotter in the throwing order and that seemed to provide the spark the squad needed.

As for our predictions from last week, while all four qualifiers were among the teams we told you to keep an eye on we also swung and missed on our lock of the week. Einarson finished round-robin play with a 4-2 record, but so too did three other teams in her pool. That led to tiebreakers, Einarson lost to Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont., 7-5 and did not advance to the playoff round. Hey, as Smooth Jimmy said, when you’re right 52 percent of the time, you’re wrong 48 percent of the time.

Of course, we also have to mention how things unfolded in the other women’s pool where there was just one 4-2 team (Tippin) and five others all locked up with 3-3 records. Edmonton’s Kelsey Rocque made it through clean based on her record. The other four played double tiebreakers with Calgary’s Nadine Scotland emerging there. Clearly it was a less-than-ideal scenario and hopefully, the next pre-trials will be less convoluted.

5th End: Men’s division preview

Will the Gushue train keep rolling? The team has been fire on ice winning the first couple legs of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season at the Tour Challenge and the Masters with a 14-0 record to boot. It was at this event a year ago when Gushue made his return from a hip/groin issue and the team took flight from there.

Carruthers has finished runner-up at the BOOST National the past two seasons. This is typically when his team starts to heat up as the night-and-day turnaround from the Tour Challenge to the Masters showed. Can Carruthers continue to climb and reach the final again?

Also in the “heating up” category (but not yet “on fire” for all you NBA Jam fans out there) are McEwen and Calgary’s Kevin Koe, whose teams both reached the semifinals at the Masters.

Morris had a disappointing start to the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season — 0-4 at both the Tour Challenge and Masters — but has qualifying for the Olympic Trials awakened the squad?

With several teams declining their invitations due to conflicts with other events or training for the Olympic Trials, the door has been opened for some new teams to appear in the BOOST National. This will be our first look at Chang-Min Kim’s team from South Korea. Kim will represent the host nation at the 2018 Winter Olympics and recently captured the Pacific-Asia championship in Australia. How will Team Kim fare in their Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling debut?

Pool A Pool B Pool C
Brad Gushue Brad Jacobs Reid Carruthers
Mike McEwen Kevin Koe John Epping
John Morris Jason Gunnlaugson Pat Simmons
Greg Balsdon William Lyburn Rui Liu
Bruce Mouat Greg Drummond Chang-Min Kim

6th End: Women’s division preview

Will the real Team Homan please stand up? The Ottawa squad has gone 1-3 at both the Tour Challenge and Masters to miss the playoffs twice, but with two World Curling Tour titles elsewhere this season, their Slam slump isn’t something to be totally worried about. You don’t win Olympic gold medals in September and October and as we saw last season the reigning world champions know when the right time to peak is. They’ll want to put in a good appearance here heading into the Olympic Trials, so until it’s strike three, then, by all means, hit the panic button.

Jones was riding the wave through the Masters, can her team continue to cruise and keep the winning streak intact?

Einarson was also on a hot streak until running into Jones in the final and will look to bounce back from losing in the pre-trials to defend the BOOST National women’s title.

Also in the “heating up” category is Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., following a strong performance at the Masters reaching the quarterfinals. Where they rose though, Sweeting fell from winning the Tour Challenge to missing the Masters playoffs and will aim to rebound in response.

It’ll be a tight turnaround for Tippin from the pre-trials, but can her team keep the momentum from a spirited week?

Welcome back, Chelsea Carey. The Calgary crew returns to the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series at the BOOST National. Carey just missed out on a berth at the Masters losing to Einarson in the Tour Challenge Tier 2 final but managed to work her way back up to secure a spot here.

Pool A Pool B Pool C
Rachel Homan Jennifer Jones Val Sweeting
Michelle Englot Alina Paetz Allison Flaxey
Jacqueline Harrison Casey Scheidegger Bingyu Wang
Kerri Einarson Kelsey Rocque Chelsea Carey
Tracy Fleury Julie Tippin Binia Feltscher

7th End: When does the BOOST National start?

It all begins Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET at the Essar Centre headlined with Jones playing Alina Paetz of Switzerland in a rematch of the 2015 world championship final during the first draw. Also hitting the ice for the opener: Carruthers clashes with Kim, Sweeting meets two-time world champ Binia Feltscher of Switzerland and Allison Flaxey of Caledon, Ont., plays China’s Bingyu Wang.

Jacobs kicks off his quest to defend the men’s title taking on Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson in the second draw Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. ET. Elsewhere, Toronto’s John Epping draws China’s Rui Liu, Gushue goes up against McEwen, Koe collides with Scotland’s Greg Drummond and Homan faces Tracy Fleury of Sudbury, Ont.

Round-robin action continues through to Friday with the top eight on each side qualifying for the weekend playoffs. CLICK HERE for the full draw schedule of matches.

8th End: Televised?

If you can’t join us in Sault Ste. Marie, television coverage begins Thursday on Sportsnet at Noon ET. For the full TV schedule, CLICK HERE.

Also watch online by subscribing to Sportsnet NOW (Canada) or (international).