As we wave goodbye to 2015, it’s time for a look back at some of the events and stories from the first half of the curling season, and the Scottish teams’ part in them.
For all the talk of new broom technology ruining the sport, there was still a great deal that was familiar: brilliant events, Canadian Grand Slam dominance and Team Edin winning the biggest prizes…
Edin and Sidorova conquer Europeans
Esbjerg, Denmark, was the setting for the 2015 European Curling Championships and did a great job – competitors praised the ice, the volunteers and the fact that the A and B arenas were on the same site.
Scotland’s representatives were Team Smith for the men’s section and Team Muirhead in the women’s.
Smith had seen off Teams Brewster, MacDonald and Murdoch to qualify for Esbjerg, but their relative inexperience (this was a first men’s Europeans for the 2013 World Juniors champions) seemed to tell early on.
They slid to a W1 L4 record with defeats against Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands – their A-Division status seemed to be at stake and playoff hopes a distant dream.
But suddenly it clicked into place. Finland were beaten 7-3 and from there Smith reeled off the wins against Italy, Russia and Germany – they had their confidence back, and were making the big shots.
They had secured Scotland’s spot at the 2016 World Men’s Championship, but faced a tiebreaker against Sweden to make the semi-finals.
They were edged out 8-7 by Edin’s Swedish rink – a disappointment after their run of wins, but undoubtedly a fine European debut for Smith.
There was less drama for Team Muirhead in making the women’s playoffs, as they racked up seven wins from nine.
The drama was saved for their semi-final with Finland, as the Finns led 5-0 after three ends and the game looked to be slipping away from the Scots.
But the nightmarish start was followed by seven ends of professional and increasingly dominant curling from Muirhead’s rink, dragging themselves back to 6-6 after seven ends and stealing two in end eight for a lead they never relinquished.
It was not to be the perfect ending for Muirhead, as Team Sidorova of Russia won the final 6-4 – but the silver medals represented a step up from last year (where they won bronze), both on the podium and in terms of quality, delighting coach David Hay with their consistent level of performance.
Gold for Sidorova was a fitting reward for a team who operated with an air of composure and control throughout the week – while in the men’s competition it was Sweden who took top spot.
Having narrowly beaten Scotland in the tiebreaker, Team Edin got up to their 2014-15 tricks again, really turning it on when it mattered to beat Norway in the semi-finals and Switzerland in the final.
Homan hammer Grand Slam rivals
While the four Grand Slam of Curling men’s titles played for so far have gone to four different winners – Team Koe claimed the Tour Challenge, Team McEwen the Masters, Team Gushue the National and Team Epping the Canadian Open (angle raises ahoy) – there’s been one team ruling the women’s events.
Team Homan may have lost the Tour Challenge final to Team Tirinzoni of Switzerland, but since then they’ve been winning. A lot.
The Masters, National and Canadian Open all fell before them, three of their titles in a season that has seen them take more than $160,000 in tournament winnings… with plenty more to come in 2016, no doubt.
As for the Scots… well, Tirinzoni’s Tour Challenge win is the only Grand Slam title not to go to a Canadian rink at this point in the season, so it’s been an uphill battle.
Teams Brewster and Smith reached the semi-finals of the Tour Challenge tier 2, but the Olympians of Team Murdoch struggled – at least up until the Canadian Open, where they went out at the quarter-final stage after earlier notching wins over Teams Jacobs, Laycock and Bottcher.
In the women’s Grand Slams, Muirhead made the quarter-finals of the Tour Challenge (beaten by Homan) and semi-finals of the Canadian Open, Team Jones denying the defending champions a spot in the final.
With those results – as well as being runner-up at both Europeans and the Stockholm Ladies Cup, plus semi-finalists at the Women’s Masters Basel – it’s been a consistent enough season so far. Indeed their skip believes they’re in a better place than they were at this point in 2014.
One more thing from the Grand Slams: Gushue’s fall at the Masters.
As well as prompting discussion about whether helmets should be worn on the ice, it also raised the issue of concussion.
Gushue miraculously (or, perhaps, dangerously) returned towards the end of the game in which he fell – but should that have been his decision to make, or one for an objective party, i.e. a doctor?
Curling Canada is now looking to create the sport’s first concussion protocol ready for the 2016-17 season, which can only be a good thing.
Scots winning at home and away
So it’s been nearly but not quite for the Scottish teams so far in 2015-16? Not exactly.
Smith claimed the spoils at the Goldline Scottish Curling Tour Edinburgh International, seeing off Van Dorp’s Dutchmen, their other most notable performance coming at the Swiss Cup Basel, where they fell to Gushue in the semi-finals.
Brewster won the Curling Night in America men’s event held in Eveleth, as well as finishing runners-up to Edin at the Baden Masters in August and to compatriots Team Mouat at the Champions Curling Tour event in Dumfries this month.
Mouat had previously won the BrokerLink OVCA Junior Superspiel in Ottawa, Canada – a week after beating Epping twice on the way to the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau semis – and also the Forfar Open on the Scottish Curling Tour.
The team currently holding the most Scottish Curling Tour titles this season, though, are Team Hardie, who won both the Braehead and Dumfries Opens.
Just a few days before Christmas, Murdoch won the Karuizawa International in Japan, seeing off Pat Simmons’ rink in the final, and taking momentum into 2016.
On the women’s side of things, Team Gray won the Dumfries Challenger CCT ladies event, having reached the semi-finals of the Dave Jones Northbridge Mayflower Cashspiel and quarter-finals at the Boundary Ford Classic, both in Canada, earlier in the season.
Team Fleming have had a tough few months, although they did make the quarters at the Women’s Masters Basel and semis at the Medicine Hat Charity Classic in Alberta.
The future’s bright
Scotland’s hopes for future success also performed well in the first part of the season.
The first leg of the Asham Under-21 Slam was held in Greenacres and the men’s section was won by Team Whyte, while the women’s title went to Karina Aitken’s rink.
From there, while the men’s events were won by a different team each time, Team Murray went all Homan on their opponents and claimed top spot at Kinross, Inverness and Lockerbie.
As for the junior men, Team Bryce won in Kinross, Team Brydone in Inverness and Team McNay in Lockerbie.
There were also Scottish teams involved in the European Junior Curling Tour events – several picking up medals.
Team Jackson won gold at the Braehead Junior International in September, while Mouat won men’s bronze.
Brydone and K Aitken won silver and bronze respectively at the EJCT event in Oslo, Norway, while Bryce and Murray took third and fourth respectively in Thun, Switzerland.
Hopes for 2016
The next year promises to be a big one for Scotland. Tour events begin with the Perth Masters, which has again attracted a world class field, from January 7-10.
Others include the Glynhill Ladies International (also January), Aberdeen City Open (February), Aberdeen International (March) and Perth Ladies International (April).
The Royal Caledonian Curling Club hopes for increased media attention and spectator numbers for these, and the Scottish Championships in February of course, ahead of Braehead hosting the 2016 Europeans in November.
Another area of potential growth is in mixed curling, boosted by mixed doubles’ inclusion in the 2018 Olympics.
Scotland (Cameron Bryce, Katie Murray, Bobby Lammie and Sophie Jackson) were a tiebreaker away from making the quarter-finals of the inaugural World Mixed Curling Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in September.
In April 2016 we have the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden – Scotland will be represented by Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken, and hopefully they can lay down a marker for the nation at this key time in the development of the discipline.
One more hope for the year to come: a concrete resolution to #broomgate.
Following complaints about ‘joystick curling’ and teams calling others ‘cheats’, certain broom heads were banned, at least temporarily, at elite level while the sports governing bodies try to sort it out.
It’s not an easy thing to do. How do you answer questions such as:
– How effective a broom is too effective?
– What should the balance be between good shot-making and good sweeping?
– What should the balance be between getting in the best physical shape and getting the best out of your equipment?
– Can the World Curling Federation be seen to make objective calls when it is sponsored by some broom suppliers (Balance Plus and Goldline) and not others (notably Hardline)?
However those in charge of the sport come to a conclusion (I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes!), it must involve the global curling community and the testing/decision-making process must be transparent.
Or, in other words, what these guys said.
Thanks for reading and supporting The Roaring Game Blog in its first few months… may you, dear reader, and the sport have a fantastic 2016!