Team Sweeting celebrate their victory in the final of the Tour Challenge in Cranbrook, B.C. (Photo: Anil Mungal)

8 Ends: Sweeting, Edin find winning path at Tour Challenge

November 14, 2016, 5:12 PM

CRANBROOK, B.C. — With the way the Tour Challenge was starting, it didn’t look like either Edmonton’s Val Sweeting or Niklas Edin of Sweden would be in the winner’s circle Sunday or even in the playoff picture for that matter.

Sweeting, coming off of a winless run two weeks ago at the WFG Masters, dropped her opening game of the tournament for a 0-5 start to the 2016-17 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.

Despite the setback, Sweeting remained cool, calm and collected, as they say. As all teams struggled with the new rocks and tricky ice conditions through the week, Sweeting accepted the fact that not every shot was going to be made and to finish first you must first figure out the present challenges of the game before your opponent does. That strategy propelled Team Sweeting from another possible early exit all the way to the Tier 1 women’s championship.

Meanwhile, the target was on the back of Edin following his first Grand Slam title victory at the WFG Masters. His Swedish side lost their first two games putting them in a do-or-die situation every match moving forward including a tiebreaker against Team Jacobs. Edin pulled off an incredible turnaround as his team went all-in with nothing left to lose to win consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles on the year.

1st End: Back-to-back like Edin in 2016

The team of Edin, third Oskar Eriksson, second Rasmus Wrana and lead Christoffer Sundgren continued their strong start to the season having now won five titles on the World Curling Tour, including three in a row, to maintain control of the top spot on the year-to-date and money list rankings.

They’ve already banked $60,000 from their Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling winnings alone and are in good standing for a bonus at the end of the season via the Rogers Grand Slam Cup.

Edin cites the new brush and sweeping rules as a key difference maker as he believes it has evened out the unfair advantages from last season. The addition of Wrana replacing Kristian Lindstroem has also been a factor as their former second struggled with a shoulder injury last season and was dropped from the lineup.

“I think the whole new brush situation has just given us so much motivation this season,” Edin said. “Last year having an injury in Kristian 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.”

The rookie Wrana is making it look easy at this level now winning two Grand Slam of Curling titles in the two events he’s played in.

2nd End: Sweeting’s sweet second Slam title

While it took two weeks for Edin to win his second title, it’s been a little over two years for Sweeting.

Flashback to the 2014 Masters where Sweeting, second Dana Ferguson and lead Rachel Brown scored their first. Sweeting counted on super spare Cathy Overton-Clapham after parting ways on the eve of the tournament with third Andrea Kelly, who had just joined the team at the start of that season. Lori Olson-Johns became their new full-time third shortly thereafter.

Adversity and perseverance were the name of the game for that one. This time around it was out-duelling opponents and sound strategy.

Giving up a two-spot in the opening end of the final to Michelle Englot wasn’t the ideal start, however, there was still a lot of curling left and as Sweeting started stealing end-after-end-after-end to build a 5-2 lead, you could see Sweeting feel more relaxed, confident and in control of the situation. Her final shot of the game to score three and put the game away 8-4, by following a line down the sheet she had been through before, summed it all up perfectly.

3rd End: Edin-Smith final a historic showdown

History was made at the 2016 Tour Challenge with the first all-European men’s final at a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event. Edin’s win in the semifinals secured the record moment as on the other side of the bracket it was guaranteed to send one European team into the final with Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud facing Kyle Smith of Scotland.

The young Smith squad, 2013 world junior champions, were playing in just their second elite-level Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event and were actually in the Tier 2 division of the Tour Challenge a year ago. Edin’s experience edged out Smith on the day 7-3 now that’s he’s a “veteran” at playing in these finals.

It was still a solid run for Smith, third Thomas Muirhead, second Kyle Waddell and lead Cammy Smith.

Besides, as Muirhead said, it’s his time to shine now following his sister Eve and her four Grand Slam championships.

“Eve’s had her turn, I think,” he said with a laugh after reaching the final. “She’s been there and done it so it’s nice to be in that situation for once instead of watching from the sidelines.”

4th End: Englot emerges as title contender

Michelle Englot and her Winnipeg-based team were sort of a wild card entering the Tour Challenge.

Team Englot was on the outside ranked No. 16 on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit and only received an invite after Team Eve Muirhead declined their spot to focus on preparing for the upcoming European Championships on home ice in Scotland.

The Regina native Englot joined third Kate Cameron, second Leslie Wilson-Westcott and lead Raunora Westcott this season after their former skip Kristy McDonald stepped back from competitive curling to focus on her family life.

Bringing in a new player, especially one who calls the shots, is always a challenge and competing in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event against the best teams in the world meant little margin for error.

Englot was experienced at playing in the Scotties Tournament of Heart as a seven-time provincial champ, but a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling final was uncharted territory. Even a playoff victory was new ground and she did it in stunning fashion taking down five-time Grand Slam winner Rachel Homan of Ottawa.

It’ll be intriguing to see how far this team continues this season.

5th End: Balsdon, Harrison moving on up

The double-tiered Tour Challenge presents teams just under the elite rank and local teams an opportunity to compete for a spot to the 2017 Meridian Canadian Open.

Greg Balsdon of Kingston and Jacqueline Harrison of Mississauga both edged out their finals opponents for those spots as the two Ontario teams now get the chance to play against the elite.

Balsdon beat Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene while Harrison slipped past Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay both with 5-4 victories each.

Harrison and Balsdon have played in Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events before and will look to make the most of their guaranteed berth to North Battleford, Sask., in the new year.

6th End: Hasselborg, Flaxey prove they belong

WFG Masters winner Allison Flaxey of Caledon, Ont., and semifinalist Anna Hasselborg of Sweden were the surprise contenders two weeks ago in Okotoks, Alta.

Flaxey and Hasselborg were back in the playoff picture and contention as they reached the final four once more. While their tournaments ended a day earlier than they had hoped, they proved the Masters wasn’t just a one-off and they’re here for the long haul.

7th End: Return of Savill

It was an emotional moment when Team Thomas lead Craig Savill stepped into the hack and delivered his first stone during Tuesday night’s opening draw against Team Carruthers.

Savill was forced to step back from competitive curling last year while battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With his cancer in remission, the 12-time Grand Slam champion returned to the game he loved and it was just like old times again.

Team Thomas rallied big time to defeat Toronto’s Team Epping, but finished with a 1-3 record and missed out on the playoffs.

The Ottawa native Savill joined the Edmonton-based Team Thomas right in time for the Tour Challenge with the goal of getting to the Tim Hortons Brier later this season.

8th End: The Crusher gets the call to step in for Gushue

Six-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling winner Brad Gushue continues to remain out due to a hip injury with no firm timetable set for his return.

His St. John’s, N.L., team qualified for the playoffs for the seventh time this season minus Gushue, through seven events no less, reaching the semifinals at the Tour Challenge before falling to the eventual champs Team Edin on practically a buzzer-beater shot.

Adam “The Crusher” Spencer was back in the lineup as a favourite among their musical chairs of spares. The Guelph, Ont., native helped them win the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard last month so it was no surprise to see him fitting in well once again.

Extra End: Next stop National

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series heads to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for the third stop of the season: the Boost National.

The full lineup for the event was announced Sunday featuring 15 women’s teams and 15 men’s teams including a sponsor’s exemption for both divisions. McCarville and Canadian junior runner-up Tanner Horgan of Sudbury will add some more Northern Ontario flavour to the mix as the 15th teams.

Reigning Olympic champ Brad Jacobs will be the hometown hero and looks to settle some unfinished business after a runner-up performance at the Essar Centre two years ago.

Tickets are available for the Boost National, running Dec. 6-11, click here for details to purchase your pass today.

As always, Sportsnet will be your home for TV coverage with two draws also airing on CBC (full TV schedule). Watch online with Sportsnet NOW, click here to subscribe today and get your first seven days free.

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