Scots dominate podium at Dutch Masters

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SECOND SPOT: Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken (pic: Tom J Brydone)

Scottish curlers filled out second and third place at the Dutch Masters Mixed Doubles this weekend, with Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat only just missing out on the top prize.

Three Scottish rinks competed at the Bernese Ladies Cup, but only Team Fleming made the playoffs – where they were beaten by eventual runners-up Team Tirinzoni.

And Team North America continued their domination of the Continental Cup, taking their fifth title in a row versus Team World.

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Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat, fresh from winning the Scottish Mixed Doubles Championship at the end of 2016, went into the Dutch Masters Mixed Doubles event as one of the favourites.

And they secured passage from Pool A of the round robin stages with a perfect record – winning against Molder/Lill of Estonia 10-3, Bryzgalova/Krushelnitsky of Russia 8-6, Fowler/Fowler of England 8-3 and Turto/Turto of Finland 9-3.

That record was emulated by Judith and Lee McCleary, the runners-up at the Scottish Championships, who finished Pool C on W4 L0 after beating Walczak/Knebloch (Poland) 15-4, Fyfe/Fyfe (Ireland) 10-3, Norberg/Stenberg (Sweden) 10-7 and Kalocsai/Van Dorp (Hungary/Netherlands) 6-5.

The English team, Anna and Ben Fowler, and Irish, Alison and Neil Fyfe, both finished the group stage on W2 L2 records – both missed out on the playoffs, but the English pair did at least take third spot in their pool (the Fyfes were one of three rinks on W2 L2 in their group but placed fourth), meaning they were into the Consolation event.

There they took down Menard/Baker of Canada 8-5, before losing out to Kalocsai/Van Dorp in the Consolation final, beaten 9-6 after an extra end.

Back to the main event, and the quarter-finals, where Aitken/Mouat found themselves 3-1 down to Szekeres/Nagy of Hungary after four ends, only to explode with a six in end five – which meant that two successive steals to end the match were not enough for the Hungarians, as the Scots took it 7-6.

Again the McClearys matched their compatriots, reaching the semi-finals with a 7-3 victory over Palancsa/Kiss (Hungary), who were the winners of this competition in 2016, having scored four in end one and stolen singles in ends six and seven.

That meant a head-on collision between Scots, and again it was Aitken/Mouat who took the spoils – scoring two in end one, one in end two, three in end three and four in end five to wrap it up 10-1.

The McClearys had one last match, the third-place playoff against Norberg/Stenberg of Sweden, which they won 11-5, with fours in ends three and six.

The final brought Aitken/Mouat a rematch with Russian world champions Anastasia Bryzgalova and Alexander Krushelnitsky, and the Scots enjoyed an ideal start – three in end one.

But the Russians hit back hard, scoring four in end two and stealing singles in ends three and four to lead 6-3 at halfway.

It wasn’t over yet, as Aitken/Mouat scored ones in ends five, six and seven to tie it up 6-6 – but two (thanks to a fine runback double) in end eight for Bryzgalova/Krushelnitsky gave them the match 8-6 and the title.

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Scottish women’s teams were back in action following a few weeks off over Christmas, with three taking on a world class field at the Bernese Ladies Cup, a triple knockout tournament.

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) started with a big win over Team Mathis, 10-2, but were knocked down to the B-Road by Team Schöpp of Germany, beaten 8-7.

They bounced back well, cruising past Team Kauste 10-2, and then beating Team Nielsen 7-3, but a loss to European gold medallists Team Moiseeva, 5-4, put them one defeat away from elimination.

Muirhead kept themselves alive on the C-Road by overcoming Schöpp at the second time of asking, 3-2, but a 7-2 loss against Team Sigfridsson in the C-Road final knocked them out.

Team Smith (Hazel Smith, Sarah Reid, Claire Hamilton, Kerry Clark) opened by edging Team Hegner 8-7, but there followed two straight defeats – against Team Wang 10-1 and Team Koana 5-4.

They kept themselves alive by overcoming Kauste 6-2, but Koana beat them again (7-5 this time), and they then lost 9-2 to Nielsen in the Consolation Cup to exit the event, which Nielsen went on to win.

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright) began their competition by defeating Team Keiser 6-5, then saw off Team Babezat 5-4, before defeat in the A-Road semi-final to Team Tirinzoni, 8-6.

They lost again on the B-Road, 7-2 to Moiseeva, but won 5-4 against Team Jentsch and then scored two in end eight to edge Team Christensen 7-6 – thus making the playoffs!

The quarter-finals proved to be Fleming’s limit, however, as they met the in-form Tirinzoni and lost out 7-3.

That shouldn’t take away the added level of consistency we’re seeing from Fleming this season compared to the last couple of years, as they continue to narrow the gap at the top of the Scottish women’s game.

The final was contested by two Swiss rinks, Tirinzoni and Pätz, and it was the latter who took the title following a 4-3 victory.

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Finally, the Continental Cup – the Ryder Cup-style tournament between Teams North America and World – was held in Las Vegas, but for once there was no Scottish involvement.

Unlike the most recent Ryder Cup, there was no reversal of fortunes for the most dominant side in recent years – North America winning their fifth in a row.

The teams were level at the end of the first day, on 4.5 points apiece, but from there North America steadily pulled away – eventually winning 37-23.

So congratulations to the winners – Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing, Ben Hebert, Heath McCormick, Chris Plys, Korey Dropkin, Tom Howell, Reid Carruthers, Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson, Chelsea Carey, Amy Nixon, Jocelyn Peterman, Laine Peters, Jamie Sinclair, Alex Carlson, Vicky Persinger, Monica Walker, Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.

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Team North America win Continental Cup, Team Tirinzoni win Glynhill International

Curling’s Ryder Cup equivalent, the Continental Cup, was contested in Las Vegas – and it was Team North America who again took the title… though Team World ensured it went down to the wire. And there was another trophy for Team Tirinzoni…

Six men’s and six women’s teams from across the globe competed across four days of team, mixed doubles and skins games, each worth a certain point value in the race to 30.5 points.

Team North America were represented by Teams Koe, Simmons (both Canada) and Shuster (USA) on the men’s side, Teams Homan, Jones (both Canada) and Brown (USA) on the women’s.

As for Team World, their men’s teams were Zang (China), Ulsrud (Norway) and Edin (Sweden), while Ogasawara (Japan), Muirhead (Scotland) and Pätz (Switzerland) made up the female side.

The opening round of team matches featured an extraordinary, topsy-turvy game between Teams Homan and Muirhead – Muirhead’s Scots sprinted into a 4-0 lead after three ends, Homan fought back and scored five in end seven when Eve Muirhead flashed twice, but Muirhead then secured the two in end eight that tied the game 8-8 and earned the teams a half point each.

Teams North America and World tied at 1.5 points apiece, it was onto the mixed doubles.

Thomas Ulsrud and Vicki Adams defeated Ben Hebert and Emma Miskew 8-6 (see that match below), and Torger Nergard and Eve Muirhead tied thanks to a three in end eight, but Christoffer Svae and Anna Sloan were beaten, so it was now three all.

The next team round saw Team World get two points to North America’s one (with wins for Edin and Zang), but Team North America were back ahead as Homan, Jones and Shuster swept the board in the third team round at the start of day two.

But Team World edged the second mixed doubles round, with wins for Pätz/Sundgren and Winkelhausen/Xu, and then it was their turn to pick up the maximum three points in the team round, Team Muirhead beating Brown 6-2 alongside wins for Edin and Ulsrud – that meant Team World led 10-8 at the end of day two.

Day three began with the third and final mixed doubles round, and the Continental Cup organisers decided to ditch the shot clock and music between points that gave the first two rounds added novelty factor but also seemed to confuse the competitors… good on them for experimenting, with mixed doubles on the up, but it needs more thought.

With these mixed doubles games worth two points, momentum was with Team World – Sarah Reid and Havard Vad Petersson getting one of their two wins as they went 14-8 up – only for Jill Officer to make a great shot that clawed Team North America back to 14-10… it arguably acted as a turning point in the competition.

In the fifth team round, Jones defeated Muirhead as the Scots gave up a steal in end eight to lose 6-5, while Brown beat Ogasawara and Simmons tied with Ulsrud.

After the sixth team round – with wins for Homan and Koe for North America, Ulsrud for World – Team World’s lead was trimmed to 15.5-14.5 going into the final day, though Team North America would be without the Homan rink, who had to leave Vegas for the Ontario Scotties.

Day four was all about skins games (rules explained here). Ulsrud v Simmons (mixed) and Ogasawara v Brown (women’s) both finished 2.5 points apiece, but Shuster got three to Zang’s two in the men’s game to draw the sides level at 22.5-22.5.

So, unlike last year where Team Canada steamrollered to victory, it came down to the final skins games with both sides having a genuine chance of lifting the Continental Cup.

Team Edin played a fine men’s game against Team Koe, winning 4-1 after a draw to the button for the last 2.5 points, but Team Muirhead gave up steals in ends four and seven to lose 4-1 to Team Jones in the women’s match.

That meant the result hung on the Torger Nergard v John Morris mixed skins game. Morris started strong, Nergard’s team fought back, but in end eight Morris had the chance for two and the point Team North America needed for the cup… which he made!

So near yet so far for Team World, as the recent North American dominance of this event continues.

But with high quality games in a more relaxed atmosphere than the Grand Slams or major championships, it was a superb showcase of how fun and yet also tense curling can be. And an attendance of 62,524 (a US record) is perhaps the biggest positive of all for the sport.

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In Scotland, the Glynhill Ladies International took place in Braehead – read about Alan Sloan and his team of organisers here.

The Scottish teams taking part were the rinks of Gina Aitken, Karina Aitken, Hannah Fleming, Lauren Gray, Sophie Jackson and Katie Murray.

Murray made a fast start, with wins over Barbezat (6-2), Driendl (7-6) and Lundman (7-1), but defeats to Sidorova (8-3) and Hegner (6-4) saw them finish just shy of a quarter-final spot.

In fact none of the Scottish teams made the last eight, despite G. Aitken, Fleming, Gray and Jackson picking up a couple of wins apiece – Jackson’s 8-5 victory over Gray getting them third place in their section and a consolation competition place.

Team Östlund of Sweden won the consolation event, while the quarter-finals saw Team Tirinzoni beat fellow Swiss rink Maillard 8-2, Team Sigfridsson of Sweden defeat another Swiss rink, Hegner, 5-4, Russians Team Sidorova beat Team Nielsen of Denmark 6-4, and Team Wrana of Sweden see off Koreans Team Kim 7-1.

In the semi-finals, Tirinzoni beat Sidorova 7-3 and Sigfridsson saw off compatriots Wrana 8-5, which set up a repeat of the previous weekend’s Bernese Ladies Cup final.

And again it was Tirinzoni who emerged victorious (Sigfridsson being down to three players due to Maria Prytz being unwell), continuing their current hot streak with an 8-2 win and the Glynhill title.

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The Dutch Masters Mixed Doubles also took place this weekend, with Scotland represented by Lee and Judith McCleary – one of 20 teams in five groups of four.

They topped their group, beating Switzerland’s first team 6-3, the third Dutch team 18-0 and then Belgium 16-0.

But in the quarter-finals they were drawn against the current World Mixed Doubles champions, Zsolt Kiss and Dorottya Palancsa of Hungary, and the Hungarians triumphed 7-5 to make the last four.

Ultimately it was Kiss and Palancsa who won the Dutch Masters title, beating Russia’s Petr Dron and Victoria Moiseeva 10-6 in the final.