Team Mouat make Grand Slam history in Sault Sainte Marie

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CHAMPIONS: Team Mouat (photo: Alan Hannah/British Curling)

Team Mouat made curling history this weekend, becoming the first Scottish men’s rink to win a Grand Slam title, with Bruce Mouat the youngest ever skip to win a GSOC event.

They triumphed at the Boost National in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, seeing off Canada’s best before beating Team Chang-Min Kim of South Korea in the final.

But first, a quick update on Scotland’s teams at the 2017 European Curling Championships…

Muirhead and Smith well positioned

We are three days into the 2017 European Curling Championships in St Gallen, Switzerland, and both Scottish teams hold W4 L1 records in the round robin stage.

On the men’s side, Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith, Glen Muirhead) have made a far better start than their previous campaign in Esbjerg in 2015, winning their first three – beating Italy (7-3), Austria (7-3) and Russia (5-3).

A blip followed, as they lost 6-4 to Germany, but Monday afternoon saw them bounce back in style, by beating Slovakia 8-1.

As for the women, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer) faced a tough first couple of games – losing 5-2 to Sweden but beating Russia 8-7 (after an extra end).

Their next three games were more comfortable, as they overcame Denmark 6-1, Italy 8-1 and Germany 8-5.

Mouat’s moment of history

Now to events over the Atlantic, and the Boost National in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario – which featured Teams Drummond (Greg Drummond, Ross Paterson, Gregory Cannon, Michael Goodfellow) and Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan).

Drummond exited without winning a match, losing to Teams Koe (7-3), Jacobs (9-2), Lyburn (8-7) and Gunnlaugson (10-7).

By contrast, Mouat – who’d already had an amazing season, with back-to-back wins at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard and Biosteel Oakville Fall Classic, and Grant Hardie winning the World Mixed Curling Championships – were in it for the long haul.

They only just squeezed through from the round robin, though, having won two – against Balsdon (8-4) and Morris (8-2) – and lost two – against Gushue (7-6) and McEwen (7-2).

That meant a tiebreaker with Olympic champions Team Jacobs, and threes in ends one and five helped them to an 8-5 victory.

Another three (in end four), plus steals in ends one, two, five and six, helped them ease past Team Koe 7-1 in the quarter-finals, setting up a rematch with McEwen.

This time it was Mouat who triumphed, with two in the first end, three in the fourth and a steal in the fifth firing them to a 6-4 win – meaning they were only the second Scottish men’s rink to make a Grand Slam final after Team Smith at the Tour Challenge last season.

As the top Canadian teams fell by the wayside, a Mouat v Chang-Min Kim final was a surprising one, and the Scots began it with a steal of one.

Kim scored two and then stole, only for Mouat to hit back with three in the fourth end, and a steal in the fifth and score of four in the seventh wrapped up a brilliant 9-4 win to claim the historic title.

Team Mouat said: “It’s been one hell of a week.

“The final was closer than the score suggests but we managed to take control after a few missed shots from myself in the second and third ends with a big three in the fourth.

“It’s unbelievable to think we are the first Scottish men’s team to win a Slam.

“I am so proud of our effort this week and the fact that we never doubted ourselves when we were playing the top teams in the game.”

The women’s title went to Team Jones, who beat Team Scheidegger 8-7 in the final.

Bryce and Fleming make their mark

Not to be outdone, Teams Bryce and Fleming have also put together strong runs in Canadian competition.

Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Ross Whyte, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle) competed in the DEKALB Superspiel in Morris, Manitoba.

Their first match brought a loss, 7-6 to Team Jordan Smith, but having dropped to the B-Road they reeled off four straight wins to make the playoffs – beating Teams Friesen (7-0), Schwaller (6-5), Bohn (7-1) and Forrester (7-4).

The quarter-finals proved the end of the line though, as Schwaller of Switzerland got their revenge with a 6-5 victory after an extra end.

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright) have been in Alberta, for the Red Deer Curling Classic – and they took the shortest possible route to the quarter-finals, winning their three matches on the A-Road against Teams Marthaller (7-2), Brown (7-6) and Gushulak (5-4).

The last eight brought a clash with Team Moiseeva of Russia, and steals in ends seven and eight gave the Scots a 5-3 win.

They faced Team Fujisawa of Japan in the semi-finals, and that was where their run ended – with their opponents winning 7-5 after an extra end.

McClearys make the quarters

In a very, very busy weekend, we also had the Mixed Doubles Bern tournament in Switzerland, with Judith and Lee McCleary representing Scotland.

They made the playoffs with a W5 L2 record, having overcome Teams Iseli (11-1), Wendel (10-2), Stolt (6-4), Srnska (9-5) and Kasner (9-8) – the losses being to Mei (8-2) and Moskaleva (9-2).

Jaeggi/Michel ended their challenge, though, winning their last-eight encounter 8-2.

Also at the tournament, Anna Fowler of England paired with Thomas Jaeggi, and they won three and lost four to go out in the quarter-finals of the consolation event.

…And finally, the latest Asham Under-14 Slam took place at Curl Aberdeen, with Team Carson (Orrin Carson, Logan Carson, Archie Hyslop, Charlie Gibb) winning the high road final by beating Braehead Rockers 7-0.

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Aitken and Mouat win fourth Scottish mixed doubles title

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Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken, Scottish champions (photo: facebook.com/royalcaledoniancurlingclub)

Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat rule the roost in Scottish mixed doubles curling once again, retaining their national title and securing their fourth in all.

They came out on top after a final with Judith and Lee McCleary where they stole their way to victory in Braehead.

Across the Atlantic, Teams Muirhead and Murdoch took part in the GSOC National, but unfortunately neither managed to make the playoffs.

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Eight pairs took part in the Scottish Curling Mixed Doubles Championship, battling it out for the national title and a spot at the next World Mixed Doubles Championship in Canada.

Sophie Jackson and Ross Whyte had a bumpy start to the competition, beaten 8-1 by Judith and Lee McCleary, but from there they reeled off six straight wins, including defeating reigning champions Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat 7-6 after an extra end.

Joining Jackson/Whyte at the top of the round robin standings on W6 L1 were Aitken/Mouat and McCleary/McCleary, the former winning their head-to-head clash 6-5, also after an extra end.

Aitken/Mouat’s draw shot saw them placed top, so in the semi-finals they would face the winner of the tiebreaker between Karina Aitken/David Aitken and Sarah Reid/Ross Paterson, who both finished the round robin on W3 L4 records.

Aitken/Aitken won the tiebreaker 10-7 but were no match for Aitken/Mouat in their family affair semi-final (Gina’s mother Morna standing in for the unwell Karina), the holders scoring three in end one and stealing twos in ends two and three for a rapid 7-0 lead.

There was a four for Aitken/Aitken in end four, but Aitken/Mouat hit back with a four of their own in the fifth, and a further steal of one wrapped up the game 12-4.

In the other last four match, McCleary/McCleary also got off to a fast start, scoring two in the first end before stealing one in end two and two in end three.

Jackson/Whyte scored two in end four but a four for the McClearys in end five meant that, despite two in end six and one in the seventh for the younger pair, it was they who won out 9-5.

And so the final pitted Scotland’s most established mixed doubles pairings against one another, being regulars on the Curling Champions Tour mixed doubles circuit.

McCleary/McCleary forced Aitken/Mouat to one in the first end, but from there the latter rode the steal train to victory.

After a stolen single in end two, Aitken/Mouat added a further two to their tally when Lee McCleary’s last came up light – and another couple of fine draws claimed another steal of one for 5-0 at halfway.

McCleary/McCleary missed a difficult double takeout opportunity in end five, giving up another steal of one, before more well-placed stones from Aitken/Mouat drew further steals in ends six and seven, handshakes offered at 8-0.

Gina Aitken told British Curling: “We got stronger towards the end of the week, we have played a lot of mixed doubles this year leading up to this national title, so whereas other teams are having to shake off the dust and get into mixed doubles format, we were just ready for it.

“Now this is an Olympic discipline it is interesting to see the level of interest increasing and curlers taking this more seriously as there is more at stake.

“We are really excited that we have qualified to represent Scotland again at the world championships in Canada next April. Playing in Canada is just great.

“Our main goal is to qualify GB for the Olympics and if we peak at the right time hopefully we can bring back a medal.”

Aitken and Mouat will fly the Scottish flag in Lethbridge, Canada, at next year’s World Mixed Curling Championships, on April 22-29.

Joining them there will be Anna and Ben Fowler, the siblings once again qualifying to represent England on the international stage.

***

The latest Grand Slam of Curling event, the National, took place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and involved two Scottish rinks.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) gave up twos in ends two and five as they lost their opening pool stage match 6-1 to Team De Cruz of Switzerland.

Further losses to Teams Epping (5-3), Morris (7-6, losing a two in end eight) and Koe (6-4) saw them exit the competition without scoring a victory.

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) fared little better, beginning with defeat against Team Sidorova of Russia, losing 6-5 having given up three in end four.

The Scots hit back in style, scoring three in end three and two in end four as they overcame Team Rocque 8-3, but losses against Teams Einarson (5-3) and Tirinzoni (6-3) sealed their fate.

The men’s semi-finals saw Team Carruthers overwhelm Team Edin 7-0 and Team Jacobs defeat Team Gushue (their skip Brad back to full fitness) 5-3.

The final then ended in triumph for Jacobs in their hometown, stealing singles in ends six and eight to beat Carruthers 4-2.

In the last four of the women’s section, Einarson won out 9-6 against Team Feltscher, while Tirinzoni edged McCarville 6-5.

And Einarson made it a Canadian double (non-Canadian teams have been doing so well at Grand Slams this season that the fact is noteworthy!) with an 5-3 victory over Tirinzoni in the final, stealing one in end five and scoring two in the seventh for their first career Slam title.

***

Finally, the Skill Awards Challenge took place in Perth, with 16 teams made up of young curlers who have all achieved an RCCC Skill Award playing four-end matches.

Team Stranraer (Niall Ryder, Harry Glasgow, Finlay Alldred, Rory Dodds) won the high road final 3-2 against Perth YC 1 – see all linescores here.

Weekend round-up: Scottish success in Karlstad

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Senior women’s world champions – Team Scotland (photo: World Curling Federation/Celine Stucki)

The Scottish teams in Karlstad, Sweden, for the World Mixed Doubles and World Senior Curling Championships made quite an impact on the global stage.

The senior women’s team skipped by Jackie Lockhart won gold, while mixed doubles pairing Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat pulled off some shocks on their way to a fourth place finish.

Meanwhile, at the European Masters in St Gallen, Switzerland, Team Murdoch won the men’s competition and Team Muirhead were runners-up in the women’s.

***

At the World Mixed Doubles, Scotland (Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat) were in a tough group (three of the top six teams in the final standings appearing in it) but got off to a brilliant start by beating Russia 9-8, scoring two in end eight and stealing one in the extra end.

They crashed back down to earth with a bump, losing 8-2 to the Czech Republic, and although they defeated Wales 8-4 and Qatar 19-0, they were W3 L2 and just clinging onto their playoff hopes after being beaten 9-7 by Estonia.

But they secured a tiebreaker by beating Brazil 12-2, which set up a rematch with the Czechs – this time Scotland emerged as winner, Aitken making a superb runback in the extra end to win 6-5.

Wales (Dawn Watson and Adrian Meikle) were W1 L5 in Group F, their victory coming against Qatar, 13-2.

England (Anna and Ben Fowler) qualified in second from Group C, having beaten Romania 9-2, Luxembourg 11-2 and Kazakhstan 9-2, losing 9-4 to Norway, then defeating Japan 10-2 and Turkey 8-2.

And Ireland (Alison and Neil Fyfe) made it out of Group D, but they did it the hard way, finishing W3 L3 and needing to beat Italy in the tiebreaker, which they did 8-7, and then Turkey in a final qualifying game to make the 1/8 finals (won 7-5 after an extra end).

In the last 16, Scotland faced a formidable opponent in the shape of reigning champions Hungary. They were 4-2 down after four ends but fought back and played an exceptional eighth end to steal one and win 6-5.

England scored twos in ends two, three and five as they overcame Korea 7-5, but Ireland gave up a five in end seven to lose 10-5 to Finland.

The Irish pair did beat Hungary 10-8 in the B event quarter-finals though, guaranteeing Ireland Olympic points for 2018, before rounding off their competition with losses to Slovakia (12-2) and Austria (9-6) to place 12th overall.

Come the quarter-finals, Scotland played Canada – they stole one in end four, scored two in end six and took their one in end eight to win 6-5.

England found themselves 7-0 down after three ends against the USA and despite scoring four in end four they lost out 12-6, bringing an end to their excellent run. Defeats to Estonia (10-8) and Finland (6-3) in the ranking games put them in a very commendable eighth place for the competition.

Scotland started their semi-final against China well, scoring three in end two, but China got two in end three and then steals of one in ends four to seven, meaning Scotland’s two in end eight was not enough – the Chinese winning 7-5.

They just missed out on a medal too – losing the bronze medal game 9-7 to the USA – but that should not take away from what was a fantastic run for Aitken and Mouat, who have hoovered up plenty of Olympic qualifying points for GB looking ahead to 2018.

Gold went to Russia (Anastasia Bryzgalova and Alexander Krushelnitskiy), who defeated China 7-5 to triumph.

***

Taking place in Karlstad at the same time as the World Mixed Doubles, the World Senior Curling Championships saw Scotland women go undefeated on their road to gold.

The team (Jackie Lockhart, Christine Cannon, Isobel Hannen, Margaret Richardson, Margaret Robertson (alternate)) were W7 L0 in their pool – beating Italy 9-1, Switzerland 8-1, New Zealand 8-1, Austria 8-1, Russia 10-3, Germany 6-5 (after an extra end) and the USA 6-5.

Scotland men (Gordon Muirhead, Norman Brown, David Hay, Hugh Aitken) also qualified from their pool, with wins over the Czech Republic (7-4), Latvia (7-2), Russia (11-4), Germany (7-2), Belgium (13-2), Wales (9-5) and Switzerland (6-1), and one loss to the USA (7-6 after an extra end).

England men just missed out on the playoff places, finishing W5 L3 in their pool, while Wales men had a W3 L5 record.

Sadly the quarter-finals proved the limit for Muirhead’s rink, losing out 4-3 to Canada (who won silver, as Sweden took gold and Ireland the bronze).

No such problems for Lockhart’s women though. Topping their group meant they went straight into the semi-finals, where they overcame Sweden 8-6 with a two in the extra end – Sweden went on to win bronze with a 10-5 win over England, who had come first in their pool on W8 L0.

The final against Germany was another tight affair – Scotland scored twos in ends four and seven but it went to an extra end, where Lockhart got her one to win 5-4 and claim gold!

***

Three Scottish teams took part in the men’s competition at the European Masters in St Gallen, open to the top ranked teams on the Curling Champions Tour this season.

Team Murdoch topped the standings by beating compatriots Team Brewster 5-4, Team Edin 4-1, Team Keller 8-1, Team Van Dorp 7-3, Team Smith 5-4 and Team Zang 7-1 – with only one loss, 6-3 against Team Michel.

Smith had a strong start with wins over Van Dorp (4-1), Zang (6-3) and Michel (6-1) – but losses to Brewster (7-5) and Murdoch rocked them back. They overcame Keller 4-2 but a 7-4 defeat to Edin saw them miss out on making the final – the Swedes going through to face Murdoch instead.

Beginning with three defeats (to Murdoch and then Keller and Edin) meant Tom Brewster’s rink were up against it to make the final, and they couldn’t quite make it despite beating Smith, Van Dorp (4-3), Zang (7-2) and Michel (5-4).

In the final, Murdoch scored three in end five and stole two in end six to overcome Edin 6-3 and take the title. Keller beat Smith 5-3 in the bronze game.

Scotland were represented in the women’s event by Team Muirhead (with Nadine Lehmann of Team Pätz filling in for the injured Anna Sloan).

Muirhead began with two losses – 8-5 to world champions Team Feltscher and 6-5 to Team Sigfridsson – but victories over Teams Wrana (6-4), Driendl (8-3) and Wang (8-4), plus other results going their way – saw them into the final.

They weren’t able to finish the job though – Feltscher scored five in end one and Muirhead couldn’t quite pull it back, the Swiss winning 6-5. Bronze went to Daniela Driendl’s German rink.

The Muirhead rink (again with Lehmann subbing in) join Teams Mouat and Murdoch in competing in the curtain-closer for the season – the Grand Slam of Curling Champions Cup, running from tomorrow until Sunday, May 1.

World Mixed Doubles: Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat Q&A

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Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat, at the 2015 Scottish Championships in Braehead (photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

Scottish mixed doubles champions Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat are representing their country in Karlstad, Sweden, from April 16-23.

The World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship involves 42 teams, split into six groups of seven – with countries as diverse as Lithuania, Qatar and New Zealand.

The Roaring Game Blog (RGB) spoke to Aitken and Mouat before they set off for Sweden to preview the competition.

RGB: When did you first play mixed doubles and how did that come about?
Gina Aitken (GA): The first time was three or four years ago. We saw the Scottish mixed doubles was on, entered for fun and we won! So we kept up with it from there.
Bruce Mouat (BM): December 2012 would’ve been the first together with Gina. It was a new thing for us, but we made the playoffs, got on a good streak and won. I had played before, though, in October that year with another friend.

RGB: What do you enjoy most about the discipline?
GA: The different tactical approach, with fewer stones in play. There are only five shots each end to score, so you’ve got to make them count.
BM: As a skip, figuring out the angles and how aggressive to go. The big runbacks are always fun too!

RGB: Has mixed doubles helped your play in the four-person game?
GA: Yes, you play with a different approach, more aggressive, which gives you a new perspective to take into the four-person game.
BM: Definitely. When I started playing curling I was too aggressive, so it has helped me work on strategy, angles and shot selection with so many options available.

RGB: What support have you had to get to this point?
GA: This year we’ve had my dad [David Aitken] as coach, looking at the different tactics, especially the power play. We discuss the options in games, the key opportunities and how to take advantage of them. It’s a new discipline and so everyone’s still exploring it.
BM: We train together at least once a week, as well as doing individual work on fitness and so on. We’ve had support from British Curling, who’ve set up training for us, and the clubs.

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Aitken and Mouat won the Latvian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup II earlier this month

RGB: How helpful was the Latvian Mixed Doubles in your preparation for Worlds?
GA: It was a good competition so close to Worlds. Mixed doubles is so different [to the four-person game] that it takes a while to get back into it. We were able to try some things out in Latvia and had a great time.
BM: There were a lot of strong teams in Latvia, so it really helped us prepare for Worlds. We saw the tactics adopted by other teams, whether sweeping or aiming at the broom. So we can work on what we want to do and adapt to others’ play.

RGB: What targets have you set for Worlds?
GA: To come top eight. We did that before in Canada [in 2013] and believe we can do that again. Ultimately we want to go as far as we can.
BM: We had a discussion with our coach, Gina’s dad, and we aim to make the playoffs for ranking points. If we do get there, we’ll then be aiming for gold – we want to win this.

RGB: Has mixed doubles’ entry into the Olympics affected the time/focus you give to it?
GA: The Olympics has meant people are paying more attention to it. For me, I’m conscious of the qualification process for GB. We are thinking about it, but it doesn’t affect our play – we’re always going out to do our best.
BM: It definitely gives me another option – I’m open to the different curling formats. Mixed doubles is enjoyable, but I’m always aiming to make the Olympics in the traditional format. But of course I’m not going to turn down a chance to compete in mixed doubles at that level.

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The World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship kicks off on Saturday, with Scotland’s first game against Russia at 11am UK time – you can watch it live via World Curling TV.

There will be updates throughout the tournament on the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.