Val Sweeting smiles during the Roar of the Rings on Dec. 5, 2017, in Ottawa. (Anil Mungal)

Olympic Trials: Sweeting, McCarville back on track

December 5, 2017, 8:38 PM

OTTAWA — Edmonton’s Val Sweeting has quickly turned a three-game losing skid into a two-match winning streak at the Roar of the Rings.

The three-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner and reigning GSOC Bonus Cup champion fell behind the 8-ball early in the Canadian Olympic curling trials giving up big steals to start her matches against Jennifer Jones and Julie Tippin. Things continued to slide early in her Battle of Alberta matchup against Calgary’s Chelsea Carey but those stormy clouds started to clear up in the second half.

“In our first two games we just had one bad end and gave up a steal of three,” Sweeting said. “That was pretty much the game. You can’t be doing that later in the game, well, you don’t want to do that ever. Just the one bad end and that really put us behind.

“We didn’t play as well in the first half of the Carey game, so we deserved to be behind there. But we had a really good second half and from there we just feel like we’ve put the whole game together. It may sound silly. The girls are playing well and they’re setting up great ends. We just have to close it out and see what happens.”

While a 0-3 start would squash a team’s chances at a Grand Slam, Sweeting still had five round-robin games remaining here and has been taking it one at a time. Sweeting picked apart Allison Flaxey 10-5 Monday and made it two in a row defeating Michelle Englot 8-5 Tuesday afternoon.

While Sweeting isn’t in the clear just yet, her team is trending in the right direction at least.

“We need a bit of help but regardless of what happens out there we have to win,” Sweeting said. “That’s just what we’re focusing on. I think the team’s been playing really well regardless of what our record shows. We’ve just got to keep that up, keep plugging away and hopefully it’s enough to make a tiebreaker or playoffs.”

It was sloppy across the sheets during the afternoon draw as the forecast outside Canadian Tire Centre called upon rain that may have affected the delicate temperature inside the venue.

Sweeting managed to flip the script against Englot as she was the one stealing the first end. Both skips made their first shots, however, it was far from their best performance on their last ones resulting in a three-point swing. Sweeting wrecked and handed Englot a draw for two but earned a bizarre break when the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts silver medallist chipped off her own causing them both to roll away.

Sweeting shut the front door in the second blocking the direct path with a guard. Englot attempted an angle raise but nailed it on the nose and Sweeting swiped another one.

Englot (0-4) took two in the fourth to tie it up and Sweeting replied with a deuce of her own in five to reclaim the lead 4-2.

Sweeting was sharp on the double takeout in six forcing Englot to hit for just a single.

A wide-open draw for two in seven made it 6-3 for Sweeting, but Englot fired right back matching with another pair of points in eight. Sweeting counted another couple in nine to reestablish the three-point gap although she misplayed her last giving a little too much heat on an angle tap.

“It was a battle,” Sweeting said. “It was a little tricky out there but no matter what happened, learn from it and try and make your next one. I think the team did a really good job of that. Luckily we got some breaks, capitalized and it went our way.”

Sweeting Nation was out in full force in the stands. Third Lori Olson-Johns’ daughters Lexi and Ava led the chants by shouting “Let’s go, mommy! Let’s go!” and “Let’s go, Sweeting! Let’s go!” and won the crowd over as they got into the spirit clapping along.

“Definitely good having that family here and that fan support,” Sweeting said with a smile. “It makes you feel pretty good out there.”

Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay got back into the win column with a 7-4 victory over Julie Tippin of Woodstock in a battle of Ontario teams during Tuesday’s evening draw.

McCarville drew her record level at 2-2 and quickly snapped a two-game slide.

“We had a couple games where there were a just couple shots here or there but we thought we were playing fine,” Team McCarville third Kendra Lilly said. “We knew if we just went out and played how we were playing that we’d eventually get back on that winning streak.”

The tricky part rebounding here is the one-game-a-day schedule that allows teams to overthink and dwell too much on those defeats.

“When we lost that game yesterday, all we wanted to do was go back out and play again because we thought that we were playing OK,” Lilly said. “It’s kind of tough just sitting around all day. We’ve got lots of time to do things. It’s definitely a slower pace, we have to make the best of it I guess.”

McCarville took charge opening with the hammer and waiting patiently for the right moment to pounce. That came with a three-ender in the third and McCarville never looked back. The teams split singles in four and five and McCarville stole one in the sixth to extend her lead 5-1. Things remained close with Tippin and McCarville alternating deuces in seven and eight. McCarville forced Tippin (1-3) to just another lone point in nine.

“The ice conditions were a little tough, so once we were up it was easier to just throw those hits and the not-so-precise shots,” Lilly said. “That three was huge to be able to just sit back a little bit and just go on defence.”

Having seen the previous draw and chatting with those teams also gave them an advantage.

“They sort of said the same things, to just stay on your toes and it’ll be a little bit slower,” Lilly said. “We knew that going in and we knew we would just have to have a nice finish on all of our shots. We handled it pretty well.”

The loud and energetic Northern Ontario crowd is starting to grow in numbers (or they’re at least creeping closer to the seats near the media bench) and is expected to increase as the week goes on.

“The crowd was really into it tonight,” Lilly said. “There were a lot of people here. It’s so much fun playing in front of them. It’s almost like the Scotties crowd and we’re going to have some more people coming by the end of the week so we’ll have lots of fun.”

If you’re ever going to surrender a four-ender, it better be in the first.

Such was the case for Steve Laycock, who conceded a score of four to Brad Jacobs during their afternoon match.

With nine ends remaining though Laycock didn’t let it deflate his Saskatoon squad, who managed to charge back against the reigning Olympic gold medallists from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for the 8-6 come-from-behind victory and improve to a 2-3 record.

“It was just one of those things, you say a million times, you grind it out and you never know in the end,” Team Laycock second Kirk Muyres said. “You play probably 100 games and you get one that goes that way though.

“We just hung in there. They got a couple unfortunate misses and we ended up getting a few on them. Quite frankly, everyone grinds for that every season and maybe gets one of them. We were lucky enough to get it out here today.”

Muyres also found things tricky on the ice possibly as a result of the weather.

“Oh, was the ice tough,” he said. “I think maybe the rain outside must be causing some issues and that was the other thing we hung by. We said if we just keep sticking in there and sticking in there they’re going to get some misses just because it’s tough ice. Jacobs doesn’t miss when the ice is good.”

After the “atrocious” first end — as Muyres fully admitted — alternate Pat Simmons, a two-time Brier champion, was the one who helped kept the Team Laycock ship steady through the early choppy waters.

“The thing about a 10-end game is there’s so much game, so much pressure and so much ice to go yet you just hang in there and hang in there,” Muyres said. “That was really what our fifth Pat was telling us, just hang in there. Sometimes you need one of these games to break through and win the event. We got that here and hopefully, we can keep it rolling now.”

The teams alternated singles in two and three and again in four and five as Jacobs maintained the four-point advantage 6-2 at the break. That’s when the sudden change of events took place. Laycock got a deuce in the sixth to cut the deficit in half and stole one in the seventh to narrow the gap to one.

Jacobs, who also gave up a steal in his extra-end loss Sunday against Kevin Koe, misfired his last in the ninth end to yield a three count and couldn’t bounce back after that.

Muyres would rather win ugly than lose pretty (with the latter also happening in his team’s tilt against Koe) and was fortunate it was the former this time around.

“As the game progressed, we didn’t play great but we played as good as anyone could on that ice,” said Muyres, who threw a team-high 86 percent. “We just kept hanging in there and obviously what happened in the ninth, you never [expect]. We were hoping for maybe a force at that point and it just hooked over on him, picked a little bit of frost, so you’ve got to take that one when you get it.”

Team Jacobs is now level with a 2-2 record and has played quite well, shooting 84 percent overall compared to Team Laycock at 80, but just missed the wrong ones at the wrong time.

Patience was also key for Brad Gushue as the reigning world champion from St. John’s, N.L., climbed to a 3-2 record following a 9-5 victory over Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers (2-3).

No one handles tricky ice better than Gushue, who won two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles earlier this season at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and the Masters — and went undefeated no less — while dealing with some difficult conditions and is taking a page out of that playbook here as well.

The main thing for Team Gushue is accepting not every shot is going to go their way and budgeting for misses on both sides. Even their 7-4 loss to Jacobs during the previous night didn’t faze them as it all came down to one untimely pick resulting in a steal of three and not a total meltdown.

“We actually felt like it was our best game of the week,” Team Gushue second Brett Gallant said. “We felt over the first four games we’ve been getting better as we went so that was actually a good sign even though we were 2-2.”

“We came in here and the ice was different today. It’s just battling,” he added. “We got a nice start and Brad made a great shot in the fifth end, a runback to get one point and that kind of kept the momentum for us. Then he made a couple pistols there in the ninth to get the four.”

Although Gushue scored a three-ender with his first try with the hammer in the second to grab a 3-1 lead, Carruthers clawed back and had it tied 5-5 through eight ends. Carruthers faced four on his last rock of the ninth end without the hammer and left Gushue just enough of an opening to kick it out and put the game to bed.

“Anything out in the wings is really tough to hit because there’s so much frost buildup and a couple of their rocks just picked on frost,” Gallant said. “In eight especially it was kind of looking like they were going to get two or three and got caught in the frost.

“The frost might have worked to our advantage a little bit in a few situations but we just had to keep focused and keep doing the right things.”

Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones is staying one step ahead of the competition at the Roar of the Rings as the first to five wins.

It was outright highway robbery for Jones to earn her 19th consecutive victory overall this season stealing points in the 10th and extra ends to edge Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., 8-7 during the afternoon draw.

As we saw pretty much all throughout that round though, it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you get the dub and the reigning Olympic gold medallist Jones escaped with another one here. Jones shot a team-low 63 percent with her team’s total at 79 percent — less than ideal numbers but good enough.

Scheidegger, who fired at 77 percent, dropped to a 2-2 record after winning her first couple games and it’ll be interesting to see how the first-time Olympic Trials competitor responds to this bout of adversity.

Calgary’s Kevin Koe was clutch once again to continue his reign on top of the men’s table at 5-0.

Koe, shooting a team-high 91 percent, fired up a sizzling hit right on the mark with his last rock of the game to score the winning single and cool Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen 6-5.

It was McEwen’s first loss of the tournament as he now sits at 3-1. McEwen still has two big games on the horizon against the Olympic gold medallist Brads — 2006 winner Gushue on Wednesday night followed by Jacobs on Thursday — and will need to get through at least one if not both of them.