Scotland win World Women’s bronze as Canada sweep the board

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Scotland’s bronze medal winners: Glenn Howard, Kelly Schafer, Lauren Gray, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan, Eve Muirhead (pic: twitter.com/evemuirhead)

Scotland’s Team Muirhead ended a see-saw week at the World Curling Championships with a bronze medal, a positive outcome from a competition that had seen Team Homan prove just too good for everyone else.

At one point the Scots looked unlikely to even make the playoffs, so for them to add another international medal to the Muirhead mantelpiece was a big plus ahead of next year’s Olympic Games.

Also this weekend, the Dumfries Mixed Doubles took place, with Camilla and Per Noreen of Sweden coming out on top.

***

Twelve teams battled it out at the 2017 World Women’s Curling Championships in Beijing, with playoff and Olympic qualification at stake.

Scotland (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer (alternate), Glenn Howard (coach)) had a dramatic start to the week, stealing ones in end 10 and then the extra end to beat the USA 9-8.

But after that point they struggled to find momentum. They went down to a surprise 7-6 defeat against Italy, and although they hit back by beating Russia 10-7 (scoring three in end one and stealing four in end four) and Denmark 7-2, they then suffered three successive defeats – against Sweden 7-3, Korea 10-6 and Canada 8-2.

Sitting at W3 L4, it was win or bust for Scotland from here on. They overcame the hosts China – who had a surprisingly poor week in front of their home crowd, only winning twice – by an 8-6 scoreline, and suddenly it was back on.

Switzerland, who started the week well but faded, were the Scots’ next victims, beaten 7-4 with a three in end nine and steal of one in the 10th, and once Germany were dispatched 7-2 the Muirhead rink found themselves one win away from making the playoffs alongside runway leaders Canada (W11 L0 in the round robin), Russia and Sweden.

The Czech Republic stood in their way, a team eyeing up a playoff spot themselves – the Czechs scored twos in ends five and seven to lead into the 1oth, but a superb draw behind a centre guard from skip Eve Muirhead, and a miss from counterpart Anna Kubeskova, set up the peel for two – which Muirhead made to win it 7-6.

That ensured Olympic qualification for Scotland (as Team GB) for Pyeongchang 2018, and after a Friday off the Scots faced Sweden in the 3v4 page playoff, a must-win match with a semi-final against Russia the reward for the victor.

It was Sweden (Team Hasselborg) who grabbed that chance, stealing one in end two and going on to score two in end six and three in end eight to win 8-5 and extinguish Scottish hopes of making the final.

But the two teams met again in the bronze medal match, Sweden having lost the semi to Russia, and it was third time lucky for Muirhead against Hasselborg in Beijing.

The teams traded ones and twos up to end nine, where Muirhead claimed a steal of one – and then did the same in end 10, both times forcing Anna Hasselborg to play tough, tough final stones and therefore winning it 6-4.

Taking a medal from a tough field was a good result for the Scots, skip Muirhead saying: “We’re absolutely delighted and that was a really strong team performance.

“We really wanted that medal.  It’s been a tough week, with a lot of ups and a lot of downs so to come away with a medal is really quite satisfying.

She added: “That was my first bronze, I’ve got world gold, silver and bronze now, so I’m delighted and it’s good to have a solid Worlds going into the Olympic Games.

“It takes a lot to come back and win bronze, it’s one of the toughest medals for a team to win.

“We’d be too greedy if we thought we should have had more this week, because I think the two best teams are in the final.”

The final saw Canada’s Team Homan do what no other side had done at a World Women’s Championships – go the entire week undefeated.

Russia (Team Sidorova) could not stay with them, giving up a two in end two, a steal of one in end three and then three in end six.

A two for Russia in end seven brought it back to end 6-3, but they knew it wasn’t their day when skip Anna Sidorova didn’t release her final stone of end eight before the hog-line and Rachel Homan drew in for two and an 8-3 victory that sealed the gold medals.

***

Back in Scotland, a Curling Champions Tour event – the Dumfries Mixed Doubles – was taking place, with 24 teams participating.

Sorted into four pools of six teams, there was good British representation – with English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh pairings involved – but only the mixed doubles big-hitters of Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat (first in Pool C, with a W5 L0 record), and Judith and Lee McCleary (second in Pool B, W3 L2) made the knockout stages.

The two remaining Scottish rinks met head-on in the quarter-finals, and on this occasion it was the McClearys who came out on top, stealing one in end three then scoring three in end five and four in end seven to triumph 9-3.

But McCleary/McCleary fell in the semi-finals, as Swedish pair Camilla and Per Noreen took two with hammer in end eight to win 6-5.

The McClearys did claim third, though, stealing one in the first end, scoring two in the third and stealing another one in end six on their way to beating Anastasia Bryzgalova/Alexander Krushelnitsky of Russia 6-3.

Noreen/Noreen took the title, scoring four in end four as they defeated Irantzu Garcia/Gontzal Garcia Vez (Spain) 7-3 in the final.

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Team Hardie come out on top in Aberdeen

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TROPHY TIME: Aberdeen International winners Team Hardie (pic: facebook.com/aberdeeninternationalcurling)

A busy weekend saw the start of the World Women’s Curling Championship, as well as events in Scotland, Europe and Canada.

Team Hardie were the standout success, winning the Aberdeen International event, while there was also bronze for Team Aitken/Mouat in their latest mixed doubles endeavour.

But first to Beijing, where Scotland women have had a rollercoaster start…

***

The 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship sees Scotland represented, once again, by Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer (alternate), Glenn Howard (coach)).

Two days in and, at time of writing, three games played – Scotland sit on a W2 L1 record.

They began against the USA, and after a three in end one, they were hauled back to 3-3 after four, only to answer with another three in end five.

But they then gave up five points over the next three ends, to trail 8-6, and were forced to one in the ninth.

But steals of one in end 10 and the extra end saw them snatch a 9-8 victory.

The outcome from their next match was less positive, as they were shocked by an inexperienced Italian team.

Diana Gaspari’s rink scored three in end seven and two in end nine, meaning the Scots needed three in end 10 to force an extra – an opportunity opened up but the shot was missed, so Italy won 7-6.

Scotland needed to bounce back quickly and did so, overcoming Team Sidorova of Russia, always a strong force at these championships.

Again the Scots started well with three in end one, and a steal of four in end four saw them lead 8-1.

Russia fought back, creeping up to only trail 8-5, but ones in ends eight and 10 got the job done for the Muirhead rink, who face Denmark and Sweden in Monday’s action.

The early pace-setters as of Sunday – Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, all W3 Lo from the first two days.

***

Back in Scotland, and a Curling Champions Tour event – the Aberdeen International Curling Championship – had drawn a high quality field.

In a triple knockout format, the A-Road qualifiers were Team McEwen of Canada (defeating Team Stjerne (Denmark) 10-3 in the A-Road final) and the Scots of Team Murdoch (who overcame Team Ulsrud of Norway 7-6 to qualify).

Murdoch’s compatriots were having a tougher time of it, as it was Teams Deruelle (Canada) and Eskilsson (Sweden) who made the quarter-finals via the B-Road, meaning that Teams Brewster, Bryce, Craik, Hardie, Hutcheon, Mouat (minus their skip – more on him later), Smith and Whyte all ended up on the C-Road.

Of those, only Hardie and Whyte (thanks to a win over Ulsrud) made the C-Road finals, and while Hardie defeated Stjerne 4-3 to make the last eight, Whyte lost 10-5 to Team Schwaller of Switzerland.

Schwaller claimed another Scottish scalp on the Sunday, beating Murdoch 5-2 in their quarter-final, leaving Hardie – 7-2 winners over Deruelle – as the last Scots standing.

In the semi-finals they faced McEwen – serial Grand Slam champions and recently bronze medal winners at the Brier… not that any of that fazed Hardie, as they stole one in end one and two in end four, before adding three in end six to clinch it 7-3.

Hardie faced Team Liu of China in the final, and after the teams traded ones, it was the Scots who claimed two in end three, then forcing Liu to one in four and scoring another two in end five – which proved enough as the next two ends were blanked and they ran their opponents out of stones in the eighth to claim victory 5-2.

So congratulations Grant Hardie, Blair Fraser, Duncan Menzies and David Reid, the team having had another good season – just missing out on playoffs at the Scottish Championships again, but proving they can mix it with the best by claiming another Scottish Curling Tour title.

***

There was more Scottish success overseas, as Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat took bronze at the Westbay Hungarian Mixed Doubles Cup.

They cruised through their group with four wins from four – beating Szekeres/Nagy 8-7 (after an extra end), Sykorova/Misun 9-0, Morand/Borini 14-4 and Florek/Herman 9-3.

Also competing in Budapest were Judith and Lee McCleary, who also won their opening four matches – overcoming Szabo/Foti 7-4, Komarova/Goryachev 5-2, Wiksten/Wiksten 9-0 and Pathy-Dencso/Szabo 8-7.

That meant both Scottish pairs were into the quarter-finals, but that was as far as McCleary/McCleary could go, as they gave up a four in end six to lose 7-4 to home rink Palancsa/Kiss.

Aitken/Mouat, though, made the last four by defeating Heldin/Sjoberg of Sweden 8-5, which was largely down to a score of five in end two.

Defeat to Komarova/Goryachev, 9-7, ended their hopes of the title, but while the Russians went on to win gold, Aitken/Mouat bounced back to defeat Szekeres/Nagy again, by a 7-3 scoreline this time, which secured bronze.

***

Finally, the latest Grand Slam of Curling event took place in the shape of the Elite 10 in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia.

The 10-team competition featured match play scoring – the game decided by the number of ends won by each team (full explanation here).

It came down to a final between Teams Jacobs and Morris, and it was the latter (Jim Cotter, John Morris, Tyrel Griffith, Rick Sawatsky) who claimed the Slam title with a 1-up triumph.

Team Morton win Scottish Mixed Championship

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DELIGHT: Scotland’s World Wheelchair bronze medallists (pic: twitter.com/rccccurling)

After the intensity of the Scottish Championships, there are fewer major competitions taking place as the focus switches towards Worlds – but there have been several headline makers nonetheless.

Team Morton claimed the Scottish Curling Mixed Championship, the Scottish Schools title went to Perth, and Scotland’s wheelchair curlers came away from Worlds with bronze medals – a fantastic achievement.

And we now know which rink will be flying the flag for Canada at the World Men’s Championship in Edmonton, as Team Gushue won the Brier in St John’s, Newfoundland.

***

The Scottish Mixed Championship was held this weekend at Curl Aberdeen (also hosting the Aberdeen International, a Curling Champions Tour event, in a few days’ time), with eight teams – two male players, two female – involved.

Section A was topped by Team Waddell (Craig Waddell, Mili Smith, Cammy Smith, Sophie Sinclair), who won all of their round robin games – against Morton 5-4, Taylor 6-3 and Penny 5-2.

Team Morton (Grant Hardie, Rhiann MacLeod, Billy Morton, Barbara MacFarlane) won two out of three though – beating Penny 7-2 and Taylor 5-2 – to also make the semi-finals.

Section B involved the holders, Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Katie Murray, Bobby Lammie, Sophie Jackson), and they made the last four with a W2 L1 record, defeating Brydone 8-5 and Aitken 7-6, before losing 10-5 to Macleod.

It was Team Macleod (Scott Macleod, Layla Al-Saffar, Fraser Kingan, Tamzin Smith) who finished first in that group, also on a W2 L1 record – having lost 5-4 to Aitken but winning 5-4 over Brydone.

Come the knockouts, both the Section A teams triumphed – Waddell scoring three in end one, two in end four and stealing one in end seven to win 7-5 and end Bryce’s reign as mixed champions.

As for the other semi-final, Morton stole singles in ends three and six as they edged out Macleod 4-2.

Another Morton steal got them off to the ideal start in the final, though Waddell grabbed two in end three and forced Morton to one in end four.

Successive steals of one in ends five and six for Morton ultimately proved decisive, as Waddell could not recover the two-point deficit – meaning Team Morton were crowned Scottish champions!

That qualifies them for the World Mixed Curling Championship 2017, held in Champery, Switzerland, in October.

***

Also this weekend, the Scottish Schools Curling Championship took place in Braehead, with 24 teams that included many of Scotland’s up-and-coming curlers, divided into four sections.

The quarter-finals saw wins for Kelso High School, Lockerbie Academy, Perth High School and Stranraer Academy, before Lockerbie defeated Kelso 6-4 and Perth saw off Stranraer 4-1 in the semi-finals.

In the final it was Perth (Duncan McFadzean, Leeanne McKenzie, Matthew McKenzie, Cameron Paterson) who came out victorious, stealing two in end three and one in end four, adding another two in end six, to win 6-4 and take the title.

***

Scotland’s wheelchair curlers, having only recently gained promotion to the main World Championship, put together an excellent run in Gangneung, South Korea, to come away with a medal.

The rink of Aileen Neilson (skip), Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson, Angie Malone (alternate) and Sheila Swan (coach) finished the round robin with a W6 L3 record, putting them into the 1v2 playoff with Russia, which they lost 4-2.

They were then defeated 7-3 by Norway in the semi-final, but bounced back to win the bronze medals, beating China 9-5 thanks to three in end seven and a steal of two in end 10.

Skip Aileen Neilson said: “It’s a bit surreal to be honest. Having come off from losing in the 1v2 game to Russia, and then to Norway [in semi-final] we knew we had to come back out here and fight.

“We stuck together and we didn’t let it go until the very last stone was thrown.

“We have gained so much experience in having come back from the qualifiers to come back and medal.

“It’s just fantastic. I’m really, really pleased.”

Norway won gold, overcoming Russia 8-3 in the final.

***

And at the Brier, Canada’s national men’s championship, it was a joyful homecoming for Team Gushue in St John’s, Newfoundland.

Backed by a passionate crowd, the Gushue rink (Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker) overcame Manitoba (McEwen) in the 1v2 playoff by a 7-5 scoreline, then faced Team Canada (K Koe) in the final.

Gushue made a fast start, going 5-1 up after five ends, but Koe scored three in end six and stole one in end seven to level it up.

Gushue, though, kept his composure to take his ones in ends eight and 10, which meant a 7-6 victory and passage to the World Men’s Championship, to face Team Murdoch of Scotland and the other big hitters of the global game.

 

Teams Bryce and Jackson excel at World Juniors

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SILVER: Cate Brewster, Laura Barr, Sophie Sinclair, Mili Smith, Naomi Brown and Sophie Jackson. Pic: twitter.com/CurlTeamJackson

Team Bryce and Jackson both performed strongly in Korea at the World Junior Curling Championships, Sophie Jackson’s rink winning silver in the women’s section and Cameron Bryce’s men finishing fourth in the venue for the forthcoming Winter Olympics.

***

Scotland women (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair, Laura Barr (alternate), Cate Brewster (coach)) enjoyed a huge turnaround from the last World Juniors, when they were relegated to the B-Division, but having won promotion they did superbly.

They cruised through the round robin with a W7 L2 record, starting with four consecutive victories – versus Korea (7-6, stealing one in end 10), Hungary (8-7), Turkey (10-5) and Sweden (6-5, stealing two in the 10th end).

Team Jackson then lost 8-7 to Switzerland, but bounced back with three more wins, against Japan (9-7), the USA (7-2) and Canada (8-5, scoring four in end four).

Their last round robin match brought an 8-7 loss to Russia after an extra end, but they had done enough to make the 1v2 page playoff.

There they were beaten 9-6 by Sweden, having given up a steal of three in end three, but they secured their spot in the final, guaranteeing a medal, with a emphatic victory against Canada.

The Scots got off to an ideal start, scoring three in end one, and added two in the third end, stole four in the fourth, three in the fifth and one in the sixth, for a 13-2 win after eight ends.

Skip Sophie Jackson said: “I think the fire was sparked in us. We were so ready for that game and we wanted to make the final so bad after last night’s loss.

“We were just really ready and really pumped for that. This takes the pressure off a wee bit, but we still want that gold so bad.”

The final brought a third meeting with Sweden, the sides having won once and lost once against each other already in Gangneung.

Isabella Wranaa’s Swedes took the spoils this time, as although Scotland scored three in end four to lead 4-3, Sweden hit back by taking a three of their own in end five, stealing two in the sixth end and adding another two in the eighth for a 10-7 win and the gold medals.

Scotland could still be delighted with claiming silver in a tough competition; Canada took bronze.

Jackson said: “I’m a bit gutted, but we’ve had a really good week.

“I’m speechless really, we’ve done way better than we expected, so we’re still happy.

“I’m so proud of my team, we’ve done so much this season.”

***

It was a tougher route to the playoffs for Scotland men (Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle, Frazer Shaw, Ross Whyte (alternate), Colin Morrison (coach)), who lost their opening two matches – 7-6 to the USA after an extra end (having been 6-2 down), and 8-7 to Norway (having been 6-1 down).

But they pulled out four successive wins to get back in contention – beating Sweden 8-6, Switzerland 8-7 (after an extra end), China 8-3 and Italy 7-5.

They went down 8-7 to hosts Korea (another extra end loss), which meant they had to win their final two round robin games to clinch a playoff spot.

That they did, overcoming Turkey 7-4 and Canada 9-8 (taking their one with hammer in an extra end).

They won the 3v4 game 8-7 against Norway, scoring two in end 10 and then stealing one in the extra end, but they came unstuck against Ki Jeong Lee’s Korea in the semi-final.

The host nation, who went on to beat the USA in the final to win gold, beat the Scots 11-4 courtesy of three in end one, two in end three, three in the sixth end and two in the eighth.

That left Scotland facing Norway (again!) for bronze, and here they fell short – as the Norwegians went 7-0 ahead courtesy of steals in the first three ends, and eventually won out 10-3 in eight ends.

***

 

As well as the Scottish Championships, plenty of other national championships have been taking place this week, including the English Championships – which were won by Team Woolston (men’s) and Team Farnell (women’s).

In Canada, of course, we had the national women’s championship, the Scotties, which witnessed fierce competition between Teams Englot (Manitoba) and Homan (Ontario).

Englot won both the round robin encounter and the 1v2 page playoff game, but when it came to the final, it was Rachel Homan’s rink who won a see-saw affair 8-6, gaining the national title and securing a trip to face Team Muirhead and co at Worlds in Beijing.

 

Muirhead and Murdoch triumph: 2017 Scottish Curling Championships round-up

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CHAMPIONS: David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

Team Murdoch won the men’s title at the Scottish Curling Championships for the first time since claiming their 2014 Winter Olympic silver medals, while Team Muirhead clinched their third women’s title in succession.

Finals day began with Team Muirhead facing Team Fleming in the women’s title decider, and a three in end five and two in end eight gave Eve Muirhead’s rink a 6-4 victory and the skip her seventh title.

Teams Mouat and Murdoch, both on six-game winning runs, collided later in the afternoon, and David Murdoch’s men were ruthless in punishing Mouat mistakes, scoring four in end three and three in the fifth to triumph 10-4.

***

Scottish Curling Championships Ladies Final 25.02.17
WOMEN’S WINNERS: Lauren Gray, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan and Eve Muirhead. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Glenn Howard (coach)) went unbeaten through the tournament, with six wins in the round robin (see my review here) and victory over Team Smith in the 1v2 page playoff.

They had only just edged by Hazel Smith’s rink in the group stage, stealing two in end 10 to win 11-9, but they did a professional job on the same opponents in the playoff.

Twos in ends four and six propelled them to a 6-3 victory, putting them into the final and tipping Smith into a semi-final against Hannah Fleming’s rink.

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright, Nancy Smith (coach)) had endured a tough round robin, forcing a tiebreaker by beating Team Gina Aitken in their last match.

There they saw off Team Karina Aitken 8-4, putting them into the semi with Smith.

A third consecutive victory followed, as twos in ends one and three, plus three in end six, won them the match 9-6 and booked their spot in the final.

Team Fleming made the better start to that final, maintaining their composure and preventing the Muirhead rink getting an early jump on them, as it was tied at 1-1 after four ends.

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RUNNERS-UP: Vicky Wright, Alice Spence, Jen Dodds and Hannah Fleming. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

But a couple of fine shots from Sloan, and loose ones from Fleming, gave Muirhead the opportunity to hit for three, which she duly made for a 4-1 lead at halfway.

Fleming took a single in end six and stole one in end seven to narrow the gap to one, but Muirhead hit back with a two in the eighth end for a 6-3 lead which always looked difficult to pull back.

So it proved, Muirhead running out 6-4 winners for a third consecutive Scottish title (seventh in all) and passage to Worlds in Beijing (March 18-26).

Afterwards, Eve Muirhead said: “I think patience was a key factor out there. Right from the off Hannah and the girls played really well, and so did we.

“We knew we had a game on our hands, we expected that, and as a team we never get ahead of ourselves or get complacent, so we stayed patient and then got that little break in the fifth end, scored the three and that gave us a little jump ahead.

Adams added: “This is what we train for, we do a lot behind the scenes, not just on the ice, and we take each game as one game, we don’t get too ahead of ourselves.

“We individualise the games, break them down into stones, single ends, making it much easier to focus on that rather than the bigger picture.”

While Muirhead won her seventh title, and Sloan and Adams their sixth, it was a first success for lead Gray, who capped it with two perfect tick shots in the final end.

She said: “I’m so delighted to have won my first Scottish Championship; it was an absolute joy to be playing with the girls today.

“I’ve been working hard on the tick shots, as this is my first season as a lead, so I was really pleased to make them both in the 10th end.”

 

Muirhead also praised coach Glenn Howard, adding: “As soon as we brought him on board we knew he’d help us in a lot of different ways, especially on the tactical side, and that’s just what he’s done.

“I think he was more nervous than us today! But he’s been fantastic, and absolutely delighted to get his first Scottish title I guess – but now he has the Canadian Championship coming up next week, and we’re all behind him for that.”

Now the focus turns to the World Championships in China, on which Sloan said: “It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ll get back to training pretty quickly.

“We’re really looking forward to getting out there, the field will be tough this year as always, but we’re in a good place and we just need to build on our performances this week – I think we’ve been pretty consistent.

“We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge.”

***

The men’s final was a meeting of the two form teams, with Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Derrick Sloan, Alasdair Schreiber (alternate), Alan Hannah (coach)) and Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow, Ian Tetley (coach)) both on six-game winning streaks.

Team Murdoch had a slow start, but picked up the pace to finish on a W7 L2 record and top the standings – review of the men’s round robin here.

That put them into the 1v2 page playoff against Kyle Smith’s rink, and after a tight match Murdoch emerged victorious 4-3, stealing one in end six and taking their one down the last to make the final.

Team Mouat had to get there the hard way after a terrible Tuesday – losing heavily to Teams Murdoch and Whyte – and three wins on the trot forced a tiebreaker against Team Hardie, which they edged 5-4.

They faced defending champions Team Brewster in the 3v4 playoff, and steals in ends five and six, then a two in the ninth, gave them a 6-4 victory.

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SECOND SPOT: Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Derrick Sloan, Alasdair Schreiber and Alan Hannah. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

Their semi-final with Team Smith was dramatic in the extreme, Mouat dominating the opening five ends and leading 4-2.

Two in end seven and successive steals looked to have swung it for Smith, but a disastrous final end saw them give up three, Mouat winning 7-6 to set up a Murdoch showdown.

It was a showdown which saw Murdoch clinically exploit little mistakes from Mouat, who was playing an aggressive game but seemed to run out of gas after their Universiade exploits and long week in Perth.

Draws came up short or were a touch wide, and after the teams traded twos in the first couple of ends, Murdoch exploded into a 9-3 lead after five ends, courtesy of four in end three and three in the fifth.

There were to be no miracles for Mouat to allow a comeback as Murdoch completed a professional job well done, handshakes offered in the eighth end with the score 10-4.

An elated David Murdoch reflected on a ruthless performance afterwards: “That’s how we wanted to be. We didn’t win our last two finals, and we wanted to make sure that as we were the more experienced team we came across with that authority, played our A game and put a lot of pressure on the guys.

“For a first final it’s quite daunting out there and we wanted to make sure we put them under as much pressure as we could.”

On his team, he said: “I’m super proud of them. We’ve had this as our goal for a long, long time and put in a ton of work.

“It’s not easy to win this championship; we’ve had a super week, and we look to keep that going and get a good result in the World Championships.

“It’s something the general public probably don’t see, the early starts, in the gym and on the ice; you need to have that amount of work put in to achieve that type of goal.

“We covered every aspect of this week, we wanted to make sure we left no stone unturned, and we certainly did that.”

Murdoch is under no illusions that competition at Worlds will be fierce, adding: “The World Championship a year before the Olympics is probably the toughest year; every team is coming up to their best at the end of the quadrennial.

“It’s in the lion’s den, in Edmonton, and we know how exciting that is – we’ve been there and done it plenty of times, and that excites us too.

“We need to be at our best as it’s going to be a tough fight. [But] I like our chances.

“I’ve said for a long time, although results might not have been going well this season at times, I always like the way we’re throwing it, and we just needed the extra challenge of the Scottish Championship, some good ice conditions, and we brought our best.”

#scc2017 women’s round robin review

 

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MAKING IT: Hannah Fleming’s rink have made the playoffs despite a mixed week. Pic: Brian Battensby (brianbatphotography.co.uk)

Seven women’s teams have been cut to three for the later stages of the Scottish Curling Championships, with Teams Fleming, Muirhead and Smith left standing.

Team Muirhead won six from six in the round robin, though it was not easy – they may have started with an 11-1 romp against Team Gina Aitken, but against Team Smith it was very different.

Team Smith stole three in the first end, and although they scored four in end two, it was Smith who led 9-7 into end nine – only for Muirhead to score two and steal two to win a pulsating contest 11-9.

It was, you might say, a dress rehearsal for the 1v2 page playoff between them, and skip Eve Muirhead was pleased to have a tight game as preparation for the weekend.

“We’ve had a strong round robin,” she said, “and it’s always good to have those close games, down to the last stone, and seeing how the ice copes with that.

“It was a close game, but we battled hard after giving up a three early doors, we forced them to play a tough last shot and came away with the win.”

Coach Glenn Howard was equally pleased with how things have been going for the defending champions.

He said: “We’ve played really well this week and won a lot of games early, so it’s nice to get a game that goes to 10, as the ice can change, and we learned a ton from it.

“I’ve been so impressed – every game they’ve come out firing, made a ton of shots, high percentages, and not letting up despite getting an early lead.

“We’ve only been down a couple of times in the six games. [The Smith game] showed the girls have grit, they have what it takes to come back, and I like what I’m seeing.”

As for what Howard has brought to the table, Muirhead said: “Loads. We didn’t really think twice about who we wanted to ask to be our coach, and when Glenn said yes, that was special for me because he’s always been a legend to me, I’ve always looked up to him and watched him play.

“He’s brought so much to this team, we’re working well together, getting better and better, and developing a lot of aspects, and so far things have been good.”

In a playing sense, Muirhead said their coach ‘still has it’, and he was keen to get in some practice time himself during the week.

“Ironically I have a big event coming up myself, the Brier – you may have heard of it – and I’ve got to head out to St Johns next Thursday, so I’ve got to get a little practice in,” he said.

“My old body needs a little bit here and there.

“The conditions here are very similar to the ice I’m going to get at the Brier, so that’s a bonus for me.”

And coaching the Scottish champions?

“It’s been a blast,” he said. “It’s something new to me, I haven’t done a lot of coaching in the past.

“Eve sent me a message about a year ago, and because it’s Eve Muirhead and the girls, who I know really well, that was a big plus for me – and I have a big soft spot for Scotland, so those two together meant it was a no-brainer for me.

“It’s been a pleasure. The girls have been incredibly respectful, they listen to me but challenge what I’m saying too, so hopefully it’s a match made in heaven.”

With her Olympic dream on the back burner for now, Muirhead is focused on the weekend and claiming yet another Scottish title.

“Of course [the Olympics are] a motivation – ever since I threw my last stone in Sochi to get the bronze medal, I’m thinking about the next one and wanting to get better.

“So it’s always on your mind, but first things first, this is the Scottish Championships and this is what we focus on.”

The rink in her sights for the 1v2 playoff includes two former team-mates, Claire Hamilton and Sarah Reid, and they have had a fine week with Team Smith.

They won four and lost two, a 9-3 reverse against Team Gina Aitken turning out to be a blip, while they impressed against Team Muirhead in the last round robin match.

Hamilton said: “We were lucky enough that the game didn’t really matter, so it was a nice chance to play them for the first time this season – one of the toughest teams around – ahead of the page playoffs.

“We’re encouraged by the performance and look forward to playing again tomorrow.”

And, given the line-up of Hamilton, Reid, Kerry Clark, Hazel Reid and alternate Laura Ritchie is a new one this season, I asked whether making the 1v2 game was more than they could have expected.

“It probably is, yeah,” Hamilton said.

“We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this week, as although we’ve played a lot this season there’s not been many events where we’ve played all the Scottish teams, so there are some we haven’t played.

“We’ve been abroad on tour, not always on the same style of ice as Perth, so it’s been a good chance to see how we match up against everyone else in Scotland.

“We’re happy with where we are and are looking forward to it, and whatever happens we’ll be proud of how we’ve done so far.”

One of Team Smith’s victims were Team Fleming, as they went 7-1 down after five ends, before pulling it back to 8-8, Smith ultimately holding on to win 9-8.

Defeat pushed Team Fleming to a W2 L3 record, but they won their last round robin game 9-4 against Team Gina Aitken, and then defeated Team Karina Aitken in a tiebreaker, to make the semi-final, where they will play the loser of the 1v2 playoff.

Skip Hannah Fleming said: “We probably haven’t had the week we’d hoped we would have, but we’re doing it the hard way.

“We seem to be on a bit of a roll now, getting some momentum, and we’re into the playoffs so goal one is achieved.”

Did the comeback against Team Smith, albeit not getting the win, add to their confidence?

“Maybe in a roundabout way,” said Fleming.

“We had a really poor first half of the game, so if we are to play them tomorrow we can’t give it away early, and we’ll have a good chance of winning.

“I think we could tighten up on a few things here and there but we’re going in the right direction now.”

#scc2017 men’s round robin review

brewster
CRUNCH TIME: Tom Brewster is in the Scottish Championships playoff mix again. Pic: Brian Battensby (brianbatphotography.co.uk)

The round robin stage of the Scottish Curling Championships is complete, and the men’s section saw less playoff pandemonium than the year before, where five teams finished on W6 L3 records. 

This year it only required one tiebreaker between Teams Hardie and Mouat to give us a final four of Teams Brewster, Mouat, Murdoch and Smith.

The 10 teams involved in the championship all played their part, with Team Telfer – who lost all nine of their games – coming within a couple of shots of beating Team Smith, edged out 7-6.

Kyle Smith and his rink were also glad to escape unscathed from a tough encounter with Team Whyte, who outplayed their opponents for much of the match but lost 7-3.

It was one of a number of impressive performances from the young team, who shrugged off the loss of regular skip Ross Whyte (he’s at the World Junior Championships as Cameron Bryce’s fifth man) to claim five wins.

Their six-man rotation, skipped by Callum Kinnear when he wasn’t working, upset Teams Murdoch (7-5) and Mouat (8-1), took Team Brewster to an extra end (losing 8-7), and were left to rue a few bad shots in defeat to Team Smith.

Kyle Smith said: “They [Whyte] seemed to have a really good week.

“They’re good curlers, and upset a few folk, so we were quite relieved to get over the finish line against them.”

The Smith rink posted seven victories to two defeats, putting them joint top of the round robin standings and into the 1v2 page playoff against David Murdoch’s Olympians.

“That’s 100 per cent where we wanted to be at the start of the week,” said Smith. “So we’re very pleased.

“We’ve been pretty good, we’ve had some tough games and had to dig deep to steal sometimes or create our twos, but we’re all working together so we need to keep that going.

“Hopefully we’re due a win over him [Murdoch], so we’ll see how we get on.”

Team Murdoch lost two of their first four games – to Hardie and Whyte – but since then they’ve won five in a row, meaning they carry the best form into the playoffs.

Skip Murdoch said: “Our number one priority is to get into the playoffs, and it’s a great bonus that we’re in the 1v2 – that’s where we’ve been aiming the whole week.

“We did have a slow start, but we’ve played some great curling this week and bossed some teams around, and beat a lot of teams that have been playing well.”

In fact they have defeated three of the top five in the section, beating Teams Smith (7-5), Mouat (9-2) and Brewster (8-6).

Murdoch added: “We’re in a good place. It’s going to be a tough weekend – everyone’s in it to win it, and so are we, so we hope to bring our best game to the weekend.

“We’ve been on a bit of a win streak, so you feel good and have your chest puffed out from that.

“When you have a good feeling you’re relaxed, and you just need to bring the intensity.”

Rivalling Murdoch for form are Team Mouat who, after their chastening defeats to Murdoch and Whyte on Tuesday, have won four in a row, including the tiebreaker with Team Hardie.

Grant Hardie’s rink enjoyed another good week, starting with four straight wins, but ultimately it ended in frustration as defeats to Smith, Mouat and Brewster pushed them into a decider with Mouat, the latter scoring two in end eight in winning 5-4.

Skip Bruce Mouat paid tribute to his opponents, saying: “They’re [Hardie] really strong, we’ve played them quite a few times this season and it’s probably been 50-50 games-wise, so it was good to win tonight.”

They won gold at the Winter University Games earlier this month, bringing confidence but also, undoubtedly, some fatigue.

Mouat added: “It’s always going to be quite tiring after a week’s rest and then playing another long week, but I think we’ve really managed to rest well over the week – and that’s what we go to the gym for!”

But it’s target achieved for them in Perth, and they’re a dangerous side in the last four.

“Initially [making playoffs] is what we set out to do, and then obviously we want to win it now, so it’s three must-wins,” said Mouat.

“A winning run is always important. We had a rough Tuesday, losing two on the trot, and bad losses, but now it’s four on the trot that we’ve won.

“Going into the games with a bit of momentum is always a good thing, so if we show up and play well we’ll definitely cause some problems for the other teams.”

But standing in their way are reigning champions Team Brewster, who finished alongside Teams Murdoch and Smith on W7 L2, but having lost to both they missed out on playing in the 1v2 game.

Not that skip Tom Brewster has any complaints about his rink’s round robin performance.

“I think we’re playing just as well as we were last year; I don’t see much difference.

“Even the game we lost yesterday to Dave [Murdoch], we probably outplayed them apart from one bad end which cost us the game.”

The concession of fours in end six against Smith and end two versus Murdoch were decisive, fighting back from 5-1 down to 6-6 in the latter match, before being beaten 8-6.

“We’ve lost two games this week where, truthfully, one bad end has cost us the game, so we just need to cut out a couple of those simple mistakes in the ends we’ve given up,” Brewster added.

“We’ve not played badly in either lost game, just our opponents have been exceptional. So if we cut that out we’ll be in a good place.”

As for the 3v4 match-up, it pits them against a team they’ve already beaten in Team Mouat, albeit after an extra end.

Brewster said: “It’s one extra game, that’s it; you’ve just got to be here at the end of the week.

“I’m confident, we’ve had a good end to the week and we’re improving as the week’s gone on, so that’s what matters.”