January 2017 curling preview

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Team Murdoch are among the rinks who kick off their 2017 at the Perth Masters (photo: British Curling/Tom J Brydone)

2017 has arrived and, with the Christmas break over, the curling competition calendar fills up again.

A Grand Slam, the Scottish Juniors Championship and two major events on Scottish soil – the Perth Masters and Glynhill Ladies International – are excellent appetisers for the Scottish Championships in February.

Here’s a guide to what’s coming up…

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Meridian Canadian Open (Grand Slam of Curling)
January 3-8, North Battleford, Saskatchewan (Canada)
Team Smith are the sole Scots competing in the latest stop on the Grand Slam tour. They had an excellent first half of the season, and this is another chance for the young team to test themselves against the world’s best – Edin, Epping (the holders), Gushue, Jacobs, Koe et al – in a triple knockout format. Teams Hasselborg, Homan (the reigning champs), Jones, Sidorova and Tirinzoni are among those competing in the women’s section. Follow the competition here.

World Junior-B Curling Championships 2017 (World Curling Federation)
January 3-10, Oestersund (Sweden)
Team Jackson, having been relegated to the Junior B-Division last season, have the chance to redeem themselves by getting Scotland back up to the top table of junior women’s curling. Placed in a group with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Romania and Spain, they will hope to make the knockout stages, with the top three qualifying for WJCC 2017 in Gangneung, Korea, next month. Selected games are being shown on World Curling TV, and you can follow scores here.

Mercure Perth Masters (Curling Champions Tour)
January 5-8, Perth
Thirty-two men’s rinks – coming in from across the world, from China to Switzerland – descend on Perth for this Curling Champions Tour event, which is in a triple knockout format. Ten of those 32 are Scottish, including Teams Brewster, Bryce, Hardie, Mouat and Murdoch. There’s no guarantee of a home victory, mind you, especially when the likes of Teams De Cruz (Switzerland), Kauste (Finland), Morozumi (Japan) and last year’s finalists Ulsrud (Norway) are in town. Scores can be found here and live streaming here.

Scottish Curling Senior Men’s Championship qualifiers (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 6-8, Ayr and Forfar
Curlers aged over 50 take to the ice in Ayr and Forfar aiming to qualify for the Senior Championships in February – the winners of which will represent Scotland at Worlds in Lethbridge, Canada, in April. In these men’s qualifiers the holders, skipped by Gordon Muirhead, are back again to defend their title. Follow the scores here and here.

Scottish Junior Curling Club Challenge (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 7-8, Murrayfield
An event open to junior curling clubs, it consists of three divisions, with clubs being promoted and relegated between divisions depending on their performance. Each club entry is represented by two teams – they must field a minimum of two females, and the club entry takes a combined score from the results of their teams. Follow the event here.

Bernese Ladies Cup (Curling Champions Tour)
January 12-15, Bern (Switzerland)
Bern welcomes 32 women’s rinks – including three from Scotland – for a triple knockout competition. The Scots all have Swiss opposition up first – Team Fleming have been drawn against Keiser, Team Muirhead versus Mathis and Team Smith with Hegner. Other rinks to look out for include Teams Flaxey (Canada), Moiseeva (Russia), Sigfridsson (Sweden), Tirinzoni (the defending champions, of Switzerland) and Wang (China). Follow scores from this tournament here.

Dutch Masters Mixed Doubles (Curling Champions Tour)
January 13-15, Zoetermeer (Netherlands)
Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat and Judith McCleary/Lee McCleary, Scotland’s premier mixed doubles teams, are among 20 rinks to take part in this competition in the Netherlands. Teams play group matches to decide who’ll make the knockout stages. As well as many of the world’s mixed doubles mainstays, there are duos from England – Anna Fowler/Ben Fowler – and Ireland – Alison Fyfe/Neil Fyfe – involved too. You can keep up to date with the event here, and games will also be live streamed on the Champions Curling Tour YouTube channel.

Scottish Curling Junior Championships (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 18-22, Aberdeen
Team Jackson look to retain their junior women’s title and (depending on how they get on at the World Junior-B Championships earlier in the month) go to Worlds. Their main competition looks to be Team K Aitken, but Teams Davie and MacDonald are also in with a shout. There will definitely be a new champion on the junior men’s side though – Team Mouat are aged out, so Teams Bryce and Whyte are the frontrunners for tournament victory and Worlds qualification. Event scores will be shown here.

Ceramtec German Masters (Curling Champions Tour)
January 19-22, Hamburg (Germany)
Twenty-four teams, separated into six groups, are in Germany for this men’s competition – including the holders, Team Murdoch. The other Scots participating are Teams Brewster, Mouat and Smith. Their main rivals look to include Teams Bottcher, De Cruz, Stjerne, Ulsrud and Van Dorp. The live scores will be posted here.

Glynhill Ladies International (Curling Champions Tour)
January 19-22, Braehead
There are also 24 teams registered for what is becoming another major event in Scotland, this time for the women. Teams G Aitken, Fleming, Muirhead and Smith fly the flag for Scotland in Braehead, while reigning champions Team Tirinzoni return. Teams Feltscher, Kubeskova, Moiseeva, Paetz and Sigfridsson also join the party, which consists of pool stages (four sections) then knockout stages. The event website is here, with live streaming also planned here.

Asham Under 14 Slam – Intu Braehead (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 28, Braehead
The second of three events in the U14 Slam series is being held in Braehead, with best of four end games. The previous competition, at Forfar, saw the high road final won by Team Gallacher. For more information on the event as it takes place, see this page.

Four Nations (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
January 28-29, Greenacres
Rinks from across the British Isles descend on Greenacres (Howwood) for the latest Four Nations. Last season it was the Irish who took the triple crown title – which of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will come top of the pile this time around? The event page is here.

28th Winter Universiade (International University Sports Federation)
January 29-February 8, Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Finally, we have the World University Winter Games held in Kazakhstan. Curlers to have taken part in this event in just the past few years include Brendan Bottcher, Oskar Eriksson, Hannah Fleming, Anna Sidorova, Anna Sloan and Kyle Smith. This time round it’s Gregor Cannon, Bobby Lammie, Bruce Mouat, Alasdair Schreiber and Derrick Sloan (men’s) and Gina Aitken, Rachael Halliday, Rachel Hannen, Rowena Kerr and Angharad Ward (women’s) who are representing Team Great Britain. The event website is here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

December curling preview

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Will Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken retain their Scottish mixed doubles title this month? (Photo: British Curling)

After a hectic November and as we approach Christmas, the curling season slows a little – but there’s still plenty going on.

Teams Muirhead and Murdoch compete at a Grand Slam – the National – while there are also events across Europe and the world involving Scottish rinks.

In Scotland we have a Scottish Curling Tour event, competitions for young curlers and an increasingly competitive national mixed doubles championship.

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This last weekend, the Scottish Curling Junior Championships Qualifiers took place in Perth, with 14 rinks vying for a place at the junior championships next year.

Team Bryce went unbeaten with six wins from six, and they were joined in securing qualifying spots by Teams Baird, Carson, Cormack, Craik, Joiner, McNay and Whyte.

The Double Rink Championship took place in Stranraer, an event open to RCCC-affliliated clubs (each represented by two rinks), with Dunfermline coming out as champion after winning 12-4 and 7-3 in the final against Suttieside.

And the Canada Cup of Curling – a major cashspiel for Canadian curling’s creme de la creme with a prize pot of $140,000, plus spots at Olympic qualifying and the Continental Cup – saw wins for Team Carruthers (men’s) and Team Jones (women’s).

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National (Grand Slam of Curling)
Dates: December 6-11
Number of teams: 30 (15 men’s; 15 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch; Team Muirhead
Last year’s winners: Team Gushue; Team Homan
Website: thegrandslamofcurling.com/curling/national
Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) hosts the third Grand Slam event of the season, and this will be the second season that the tournament includes a women’s section. Team Murdoch are the sole Scottish representative in the men’s section, facing Teams De Cruz, Epping, Morris and Koe in the round robin. Team Muirhead, fresh from winning European bronze, will take on Teams Sidorova, Rocque, Einarson and Tirinzoni.

Scottish Curling Mixed Doubles Championship (European Junior Curling Tour)
Dates: December 7-11
Number of teams: 8
Last year’s winners: Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/scottish-curling-mixed-doubles-championship-4
Braehead hosts eight teams fighting for the Scottish title and qualification for the 2017 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Lethbridge, Canada. Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat have had a stellar year in the new Olympic curling discipline, but Judith and Lee McCleary also have plenty of mixed doubles pedigree – and other big names from the Scottish curling community are out to challenge those established duos. The competition consists of round robin matches, tiebreakers if needed, semi-finals and final.

Skill Awards Challenge (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: December 10
Last year’s winners: Team MacIntosh (Dundee)
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/skill-awards-challenge-4
Held at the Dewars Centre in Perth, this is a competition open to junior curlers who have achieved an RCCC Skill Award. Last season 16 teams participated, with the Dundee rink of Alex MacIntosh, Caitlin Jones, Jamie Meade and Alastair Ferguson winning the High Road final.

Dumfries Challenger Series (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: December 15-18
Number of teams: 30 (16 men’s; 14 women’s)
Scottish teams:
Last year’s winners: Team Mouat; Team Gray
Website: scottishcurlingtour.blogspot.co.uk
The usual suspects will contest the title in Dumfries – Team Hardie had a fast start to the season but it was Team Kubeska who took the Edinburgh International title, before Ally Fraser’s rink claimed victory at the Forfar Open. Last year’s women’s winners, meanwhile, have disbanded, so that section of the competition is certainly up for grabs.

Lockerbie Junior International (U21 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: December 16-18
Number of teams: 20 (10 men’s; 10 women’s)
Last year’s winners: Team McNay; Team Murray
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-21-slam-lockerbie-junior-international-2
Team Bremane, from Latvia, join 19 Scottish rinks – many of the junior men’s rinks will have recently faced off at the Scottish Junior Championship qualifiers. There’s no Team Bryce, though, nor Teams K Aitken or Jackson on the women’s side, so it looks an open and exciting competition in prospect.

Mixed Doubles Curling Challenge (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: December 16-18
Number of teams: 18
Website: cclimmattal.ch/index.php
No Scottish pairs are heading to Urdorf, Switzerland, for this event, but there are 18 teams from 11 countries involved, including mixed doubles stalwarts Bryzgalova/Krushelnitsky, Szekeres/Nagy and Turmann/Lill, as well as the likes of Brendan Bottcher and Andrea Schöpp.

Forfar (U17 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: December 28-29
Number of teams: 20
Last year’s winners: Team McNay
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-17-slam-forfar-3
Twenty teams, a mix of male and female, are divided into five sections. Team Haswell look the rink to beat, though no doubt Teams Craik, Davie and Farmer will be among those to give it a right good go.

First Grand Slam final for Team Smith at Tour Challenge

 

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Team Smith made their first Grand Slam final this weekend (photo: Anil Mungal/thegrandslamofcurling.com)

Team Smith battled through to their first ever Grand Slam final at the GSOC Tour Challenge, ultimately falling to back-to-back Slam winners Team Edin.

Elsewhere, Team Fraser won the SCT Forfar Open and three Scottish teams competed at the ZO International Women’s Tournament in Switzerland – Teams G Aitken and Muirhead exiting at the quarter-final stage.

Team Jackson won the World Junior B Playdown against Team K Aitken, while the National Masters and Baljaffray Trophy also took place.

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The GSOC Tour Challenge, in Cranbrook, British Columbia, was organised in two tiers for men’s and women’s teams, and involved five Scottish rinks.

Teams Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) and Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) took part in men’s tier 1.

Murdoch began with an 8-4 loss to Team Ulsrud of Norway, then were beaten 8-5 by Team Jacobs (losing a five in end five).

Despite an 11-5 victory over Team Koe (stealing five in end eight), an 8-3 reverse against Team Morris saw them exit on a W1 L3 record.

Smith also started with a defeat, 9-4 to Team Nichols (giving up five in end five), but recovered to post wins against Team Carruthers (6-1), Team Thomas (8-7) and Team Epping (6-4) to progress to the playoffs.

In men’s tier 2, Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) – Scotland’s representative at the upcoming Europeans in Braehead, of course – also made the playoffs courtesy of victories against Team Schneider (7-2), Team Bice (5-4) and Team Lyburn (8-3), their only defeat coming against Team Joanisse (9-4).

Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Derrick Sloan, Gregor Cannon), also in men’s tier 2, made a good start – beating Team Geall 9-5 – but then lost to Team Balsdon (6-4).

Mouat defeated Team Clark 8-2 to give themselves hope of making the playoffs, but a 6-4 loss to Team Gunnlaugson tipped them into a tiebreaker with Bice, which they lost 7-4.

And in women’s tier 2, Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright) were victors against Team Galusha (9-4) and Team Tippin (7-6) but were beaten by Team Brown (10-4) andTeam Kleibrink (6-3), which mean a tiebreaker with Team Harrison, the Canadians winning that 6-4.

Come the playoffs, Brewster went down 5-2 against Joanisse in the men’s tier 2 quarter-finals, which left Smith as the sole Scottish rink remaining.

In the quarter-finals against Carruthers, Smith scored three in end three and stole two in end six on their way to a 7-5 win, putting them into the last four and up against Ulsrud.

Smith scored two in end one but the match went down to the wire, 5-5 after eight ends, the Scots taking their one with hammer in the extra end to make the final.

There they met Edin, who had lost their first two matches in Cranbrook but – as they often do – found form when they needed it to win their tiebreaker and then keep rolling through the playoffs.

And they proved too strong for Smith here, scoring two in end two, stealing one in the third and adding three in end five for a 7-3 victory – and their second successive Grand Slam title.

Team Smith’s coach Viktor Kjall said: “It has been an impressive week from the team and they played with confidence, determination and exactly executed their gameplan.”

“It is an incredible performance from such a young team competing in their second slam to reach a final and it is one of the biggest achievements in Grand Slam history.

“At the moment they can beat any team in the world but they still have to work hard if they want to break into the top 10 in the world.”

Women’s tier 1 was claimed by Team Sweeting (8-5 winners over Team Englot in the final), while Team Balsdon won men’s tier 2 and Team Harrison women’s tier 2.

For photos from the event, see the GSOC gallery here… and of course Ben Hebert returned to present another edition of the ‘Sheet Show’…

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Sixteen teams travelled to Forfar for another Scottish Curling Tour event, which came just one weekend after the Edinburgh International.

The 12 men’s and four women’s teams – from Canada, England and Ireland as well as the host nation – played out group matches to decide the quarter-final line-up.

Those last eight matches pitted Team Bryce against Team Hardie (Hardie won 6-1), Team Fraser versus Team D Wilson (Fraser took it 5-2), Team Taylor up against Team Telfer (Taylor coming through 5-4) and – in the women’s quarter – Team Ward against Team M Wilson (Ward, the English women’s team preparing for European B-Division in Braehead, winning 9-4).

In the semi-finals, Hardie overcame Ward 6-2 and Fraser defeated Taylor 5-2.

Hardie have become accustomed to winning SCT events over the past couple of seasons but it was not to be this time, as Fraser (Ally Fraser, Ruairidh Greenwood, Calum Greenwood, Angus Dowell) scored twos in ends one, three and seven in taking the match and the silverware 7-6.

Photos from the event are available on the SCT blog pages here.

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The International ZO Women’s Tournament in Wetzikon, Switzerland, attracted three Scottish entries.

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) – like Team Brewster, counting down the days to be the home team at Europeans – took their place in the quarter-finals courtesy of round-robin victories against Teams Szeliga-Frynia (4-3), Nielsen (5-3), Lundman (9-3) and Bugnon (8-5), before a 7-2 loss to Team Barbezat with qualification already secured.

Team Aitken (Gina Aitken, Rowena Kerr, Rachael Halliday, Rachel Hannen) joined Muirhead in the last eight – on draw shot ranking – having won against Teams Maillard (4-2), Mathis (6-5) and Kauste (5-4), and losing to Teams Moiseeva (8-5) and Kubeskova (6-5).

The third Scottish rink, Team Smith (Hazel Smith, Sarah Reid, Laura Ritchie, Claire Hamilton), went out with a W1 L4 record, beating Team Strnadova 8-3 but suffering defeats to Teams Baksheeva (6-4), Wrana (5-3), Stern (5-4 after extra end) and Mani (8-5).

The quarter-finals proved the limit for both remaining Scottish teams, Aitken beaten 9-3 by Team Schöpp and Muirhead losing 7-5 against Mani.

Schöpp made the final but ended as runners-up, Barbezat claiming a Swiss victory with a 7-5 win over their German opponents.

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Back in Scotland, two of the nation’s top junior women’s teams contested a playdown to decide who would fly the Saltire at the World Junior B Championships.

Team Aitken (Karina Aitken, Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Laura Barr) took the first game of the best-of-five series by a 9-8 scoreline.

Their opponents, Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Sophie Sinclair, Mili Smith), hit straight back by taking the second game 9-3.

Again they traded victories, Aitken winning 9-6 and then Jackson 8-3, which set up a decisive fifth match.

This one was lower-scoring than the previous games, Jackson taking a steal of one in end five to lead 2-1 at halfway; Aitken couldn’t wrestle back control of the match and opposing skip Sophie Jackson drew the four foot to score one in end 10 and claim victory 4-3.

Therefore it is Jackson who will represent Scotland at the international tournament in Ostersund, Sweden, from January 3-9, 2017.

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Finally, to round up the last few events (a very busy week!), the National Masters Curling Championship qualifiers took place at Greenacres – results here – and the latest round of the Asham U17 Slam was held at the same venue later in the week.

The latter competition, the Baljaffray Trophy, drew 24 junior teams – who battled it out to make high and low road finals.

The high road final saw Team Kinnear beat Team Farmer 8-4 to win yet another title in what is already turning into a very successful season for Callum Kinnear, Ryan McCormack, Duncan McFadzean and Matthew McKenzie.

Team Gallacher defeated Team Davie 10-1 for third spot, while in the low road final it was Team Craik who won out, 6-5 against Team Hair.

 

Also this week we had the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships, held in Uiseong, Korea, and the host country claimed gold in the women’s competition.

Team Eunjung Kim and silver medallists China (skipped by Bingyu Wang) both secured qualification for the 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship in Beijing.

As for the men, Japan (skipped by Yusuke Morozumi) won gold ahead of China (Rui Liu) – both teams booked their tickets for next year’s World Men’s in Edmonton, Canada.

Last, but certainly not least for Scotland, the World Wheelchair-B Curling Championships took place in Lohja, Finland.

Not only did the Scots (Aileen Neilson (skip), Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson, Angie Malone (alternate)) win silver (beaten 6-4 in the final by the host nation), they also qualified for the 2017 World Wheelchair Curling Championship – and the 2018 Winter Olympics as Great Britain.

You can see Scotland’s full results from Lohja, including their 13-3 semi-final win over England, here.

Team Jackson victorious in Prague

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EJCT Prague Junior Cup winners, Team Jackson (photo: facebook.com/CurlingChampionsTour)

Team Jackson won the women’s title at the EJCT Prague Junior Cup, defeating Team Gauchat of Switzerland in the final.

Three Scottish teams took part in the first Grand Slam of Curling event of the season, the Masters, with Team Murdoch performing best in making it to the quarter-finals.

Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat also posted a quarter-final finish, theirs coming at the Geising Mixed Doubles, while the Province Championship and U17 Slam at Lanarkshire took place back in Scotland.

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Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair) travelled to the Czech Republic for the EJCT Prague Junior Cup.

They kicked off their pool stage with a 9-2 win over Team Wuest of Switzerland, scoring two in end four and five, and three in end six.

Team Hoehne of Germany were up next, and the Scots scored two in end two only for the Germans to hit back straight away with three and head into the extra end with hammer. Jackson, however, stole one for the 5-4 victory.

Threes in ends one and two pointed them towards an 8-2 win over Team Cerne of Slovenia, and despite a 6-5 loss to Team Joo (Hungary) they were safely into the semi-finals.

There Jackson met Team Fomm of Germany, and gave up steals in ends four and five to fall 4-1 behind. But two in end six and a steal of three in end seven turned the match on its head, Jackson winning 6-4.

Team Gauchat of Switzerland were their opponents in the final, but it was the Scots who pulled through 7-4 to take the cup!

Skip Sophie Jackson said: “We are really happy with our result this weekend as we had a few tough games and stuck together to grind out the wins.

“It’s great to see our hard work from pre-season paying off with regards to results so far this season.”

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Three Scottish teams were in Okotoks, Alberta, for the WFG Masters, the opening Grand Slam of Curling tournament of the 2016-17 season.

Teams Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) and Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) were drawn in the same pool and they opened against each other.

Murdoch began with three in end one, forced Smith to one and then added a huge four in end three for an almost unassailable 7-1 lead – and so it proved, Smith conceding at 9-2.

Smith, in their first Grand Slam at the elite level (they played in tier 2 of the Tour Challenge last season), claimed a win in their next match – two in end four and a steal of one in end seven seeing them past Team Carruthers 5-3 – but two further losses (6-5 to Team McEwen and 7-5 to Team Morris) saw them exit with a W1 L3 record.

Murdoch edged a tight battle with Morris (5-4) for their second win of the competition, but defeats to Carruthers (5-1) and McEwen (6-5) tipped them into a tiebreaker with Team Koe, the reigning world champions.

A good time for your skip to curl at 100 per cent then – and that’s just what David Murdoch did, as his rink scored two in end three, then three in end five, and stole one in end six, as Koe were beaten 7-3.

The quarter-finals pitted them against the on-song Team Laycock, and this time the Scots fell short, Laycock taking two in end four and stealing one in the fifth in winning 5-3.

The men’s final was contested by Teams Edin and Jacobs. Jacobs led 4-2 into end eight, but the Swedes scored two to force an extra – where they stole one to win the match 5-4, taking their first Grand Slam title and – remarkably – the first men’s Grand Slam won by a non-Canadian team!

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray), fresh from qualifying for the European Championships and welcoming back Sloan at third, flew the Scottish flag in the women’s event.

First up they faced Team Kim of Korea – they stole two in end one but then gave up five unanswered points in the following four ends, the Koreans eventually winning 6-5.

They then suffered another 6-5 defeat, this time going toe-to-toe with Team Pätz of Switzerland but giving up a steal in end eight, before a first win came against Team Rocque – three in end one, four in end four and three in end six giving them a 10-2 victory.

That set up a must-win match with the reigning Masters champions, Team Homan. Homan took the victory though, 7-5, and Muirhead dropped out on W1 L3.

Despite four of the quarter-finalists being international teams, it was an all-Canadian – indeed an all-Ontario – final between Teams Flaxey and Homan.

Flaxey, having made the playoffs via a tiebreaker, shocked Homan with a four in end five pivotal in their 6-3 victory. Like Edin, this was Flaxey’s first GSOC title.

As an aside, it is very disappointing to see Sportsnet having chosen to end non-Canadian subscriptions to live Grand Slam matches – it means that fans of the international teams playing the tournaments cannot watch them at home, and it will hardly help to grow the sport worldwide.

I hope that curling fans’ passionate pleas for the service’s return will be rewarded.

***

Back in Europe, Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat – who had finished runners-up at the Austrian Mixed Doubles the week before – took part in the CCT Geising Mixed Doubles.

The Scottish pair cruised through the group stage, with wins over Walczak/Knebloch of Poland (10-5), Belarussians Petrova/Petrov (10-3), Poles Szeliga-Frynia/Frynia (8-4) and Kobler/Hess of Switzerland (8-2).

The quarter-finals saw them face Bryzgalova/Krushelnitsky of Russia, who have real pedigree this season – having come third at the Canad Inns Mixed Doubles and then helped Russia to gold at the World Mixed Championship.

The Russians stole in ends two, three and four to lead 3-0, before Aitken/Mouat got on the board with two in end five. The Russian pair scored four in end six though, and stole another one in the seventh end for an 8-2 win.

And it was Bryzgalova/Krushelnitsky who won the title, beating Hajkova/Paul of the Czech Republic 8-5 in the final.

***

Lanarkshire Ice Rink hosted the second Asham Under 17 Slam of the season, with 24 teams involved.

The rinks being divided into six sections, the pool stage delivered two high road and two low road quarter-finals, all the knockout matches played on the Sunday.

In the high road quarters, Team Craik scored two in end one and three in end four in beating Team Gallacher 6-4, while Team Haswell cruised past Team Hair 6-1.

Haswell won again in the semis, scoring two in end four and stealing one in the sixth end for a 4-3 victory over Team Davie, while Team Kinnear overpowered Craik 7-0.

The high road final saw Haswell take a 3-0 lead after two ends, but Kinnear roared back with three in the third end, then steals of one, two and one in the next three ends.

That secured Kinnear (Callum Kinnear, Ryan McCormack, Duncan McFadzean and Matthew McKenzie) a 7-3 victory and their second U17 Slam title of the season.

Third spot went to Craik, courtesy of a 3-1 win over Davie, while Henderson defeated Lyon 7-6 after an extra end in the low road final.

Across in Greenacres, 28 teams took part in the Scottish Province Championship.

A pool stage determined which rinks would make the quarter-finals. There, North Eastern defeated Border 5-4, Central beat Cupar 7-4, Renfrewshire 12th edged Galloway 5-4 and Ayrshire 1 saw off Moray 7-4.

Come the semi-finals, Renfrewshire 12th overcame Ayrshire 1 5-3 thanks to two in end five and a steal of one in eight, and Central won a ding-dong battle with North Eastern 8-7 – after the rinks had traded fours in ends two and three, Central scored two in end four and stole singles in ends five and six, then just about held on for the victory.

Renfrewshire 12th (Eric Richardson, Doug Kerr, Fraser Davidson, Margaret Richardson) came through as champions, defeating Central 7-6 in the high road final, scoring two in end three, three in end five and their one with hammer in end eight.

Stirlingshire won the low road final, 9-2 against North & South Esk.

Curling 2015-16: Second half season review

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Team Mouat, World Juniors gold medallists (photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

Summer is here and the 2015-16 curling season is at an end – so it’s time to look back on the triumphs, disappointments and progress made during the year.

I reviewed the first half of the season in December – you can read that here – so this post will focus on January-May.

From World Championships to Grand Slams, World Curling Tour events to tournaments on Scottish soil, there was plenty for curlers and curling fans to get stuck into.

***

Canada and Switzerland won the World Men’s and World Women’s Curling Championships respectively – Scotland failed to make the playoffs at either event.

Team Muirhead were once again the Scottish representative at World Women’s, this year held in Swift Current, Canada, and organised by a former GB Olympian – and Eve Muirhead team-mate – Kelly Schafer.

The current Team Muirhead put themselves in a promising position to make the playoffs with seven straight wins (including a 7-1 victory over Russia), but they slid from 5-1 up against Switzerland to lose 7-6… and further defeats to Japan and Canada saw them crash out.

Skip Muirhead said afterwards: “It’s hard to take that we’re out but we lost the last three games and at major championships you just can’t do that.”

Binia Feltscher’s Swiss rink defeated Japan 9-6 to claim gold – remarkably, that’s Switzerland’s third World Women’s in a row, and a fourth in five years.

Come World Men’s in Basel, Switzerland, Scotland was represented by Team Brewster – their skip Tom Brewster had won World medals before, but as a rink they were relatively inexperienced at this top level.

The Scots won their first two matches, but then lost five on the bounce to see their playoff hopes slip away. They finished strongly though, with wins over Finland, Germany and Sweden – the latter knocking the 2015 champions out of the playoff reckoning themselves.

Skip Brewster reflected: “It’s what could have been, I think. The guys have played great and we’ve learned a lot. If we take that experience and move on we can only be a stronger team next season.”

Team Kevin Koe, who had made it out of one of the toughest Brier fields in history to qualify for Worlds, took gold in Basel by beating Denmark 5-3.

***

So a disappointing seasons for Scotland in the World Curling Federation events? Not exactly.

In March, Team Mouat won men’s gold at World Juniors in Copenhagen, Denmark, having recorded W7 L2 in the round robin stage to make the 1v2 playoff.

There they beat the USA 7-5 to reach the final, where they would again face the Americans. Twos in ends two and four proved the difference as Scotland won 6-3 to take the top spot on the podium!

Unfortunately Scotland women (Team Jackson) had a rather more difficult time in Copenhagen, losing seven games and being relegated to the B-Division for next season.

In April, the World Mixed Doubles and World Senior Championships took place in Karlstad, Sweden – with more success for Scottish (and British!) teams.

Jackie Lockhart’s Scottish women won gold in the Seniors event, defeating Germany 5-4 after an extra end in the final, which ensured they went the entire competition unbeaten; Scotland men (skipped by Gordon Muirhead) made it to the quarter-finals before losing to Canada.

In the World Mixed Doubles, Scotland’s Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken (who had won the Latvian Mixed Doubles Cup just weeks before) scored an excellent fourth-place finish and collected 2018 Olympic qualifying points aplenty.

They had to do it the hard way though, coming through a tiebreaker and stealing one in end eight to beat reigning champions Hungary 6-5 in the last 16.

They recorded another 6-5 win in the quarter-finals, against Canada, before losing to China in the semis – and then missing out on bronze to the USA, as Russia won gold.

England (Anna and Ben Fowler) also performed strongly, taking eighth place overall, as did Ireland (Alison and Neil Fyfe) who came 12th.

And, while we’re on mixed doubles, a mention must go to Ross Whyte, who claimed a silver medal for GB in the discipline – partnered with Han Yu of China – at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, back in February.

***

In tour events, Teams Murdoch and Muirhead had particularly strong finishes to the season.

David Murdoch’s men had to shrug off the disappointment of losing the Scottish Championship final to Team Brewster (the Brewster rink were superb all week in Perth – solid, consistent and in control right to the end), but did so in fine style.

They had already won the German Masters in January, and as the season drew to a close they claimed the inaugural Aberdeen International Curling Championship in March and the European Masters in St Gallen, Switzerland, in April – as well as making their first ever Grand Slam of Curling semi-final at the Players’ Championship in Toronto.

Toronto was also the setting for a Team Muirhead triumph, Eve’s rink winning their third Players’ Championship title in the city (with Cathy Overton-Clapham as ‘super sub’, Anna Sloan having picked up an injury after Worlds).

A couple of weeks earlier, Team Muirhead (with Mairi Milne subbing for Sloan) had won the first ever Perth Ladies International – a competition which they had invested considerable time into getting off the ground and attracting a strong field from across the world.

The Perth Ladies was televised on BBC Alba, as was the 40th edition of the Perth Masters earlier in the year – which also had a strong entry list, including world champions in waiting, Team Koe (naturally, they won in Perth too).

The events in Perth, added to the Aberdeen International and Glynhill Ladies International (another strong field and also won by one of this season’s best teams, Tirinzoni of Switzerland), indicate a bright future for quality, more widely broadcast curling events in Scotland… just in time for the European Championships in November this year (and three more between then and 2020), you might say.

Nor should I forget the Scottish Curling Tour, which continues to provide a stepping stone for Scottish teams to experience high quality competition ahead of potentially taking on the world’s best. This season’s SCT was won by Team Mouat, ahead of Team Hardie in second.

***

So what lies ahead in 2016-17? Personally I’m looking forward to seeing if the younger Scottish teams – like Mouat and Smith – can join the usual suspects – Brewster, Murdoch, Muirhead – in making an increasingly big impact on the world stage.

As the 2018 Olympics draw closer, mixed doubles will surely continue to gain attention as a fresh and exciting discipline full of medal potential at the highest level.

And – there’s no getting away from it – broom technology/technique will also be a talking point. The World Curling Federation has released a survey for curling’s stakeholders and announced a ‘sweeping summit’ will take place later this month… but we must wait until September for definitive new regulations.

Whatever happens, The Roaring Game Blog will continue to cover it. Scottish curling, its players and its fans deserve it – and more.

Weekend round-up: Carruthers and Jones end season on high

carruthers
Champions Cup winners Team Carruthers (photo: Grand Slam of Curling/Anil Mungal)

Canada reigned supreme at the season-ending Champions Cup, Teams Carruthers and Jones winning the men’s and women’s titles respectively.

None of Scotland’s representatives made the playoffs – Teams Mouat and Murdoch went out in tiebreakers, while Team Muirhead finished W1 L3 for the competition.

Meanwhile, Ireland men just missed out at the European Championships C-Division in Slovenia, as Estonia men, France men, Belarus women and Lithuania women gained promotion to the B-Division in Braehead in November.

***

The Champions Cup, a new addition to the Grand Slam of Curling tour this season, which saw the winners of various events around the world compete, was held in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) started the competition well – first beating Team Meachem 7-2, with steals of one in ends one and two, three in end three and another steal in end six.

They then took victory over Team Clark of the USA – stealing one in end one, scoring two in end three, another two in end six and a steal of one in end seven, to win 6-2.

But defeats to Teams Epping (9-7, giving up threes in ends two and six) and McEwen (6-3, losing a two in end four and three in end seven) meant they finished W2 L2 and would need to negotiate a tiebreaker to make the playoffs.

By contrast, Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Angus Dowell) opened with two losses.

They went toe-to-toe with Team Gushue, the most consistent men’s rink on tour this season, but gave up a four in end six to lose 7-6.

It was more of the same against Team Carruthers, a four in end five doing the damage in an 8-4 defeat.

That meant they needed to beat European champions Team Edin to stay in contention – which they did 6-5, thanks to a three in end three and a steal of one in end eight.

And they earned a tiebreaker berth alongside Murdoch by defeating Team Shuster 7-2, scoring two in end two, stealing one in end three, scoring two in end five and stealing another two in end six to triumph 7-2.

Neither Scottish rink could make the quarter-finals, though, as Mouat were beaten 7-3 by Team Laycock and Murdoch went down 8-2 to Team Simmons, the 2014 and 2015 Brier winners playing their last event before disbanding.

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Vicki Adams, Nadine Lehmann (again subbing for Anna Sloan), Sarah Reid) were already out, having won only one of their pool stage matches.

They gave up steals in ends three, four and five to lose 7-3 to Team Einarson, before getting back on track (or so it seemed) by beating Team Lawton 7-2 – scoring two in end one, then stealing in ends two, three and four.

But they then lost 6-2 to Team Jones (giving up twos in ends four, five and seven) and 7-4 to Team Flaxey (the Canadians taking twos in ends one and four), which meant an early exit.

The women’s final was contested by Teams Homan and Jones – Homan have held the advantage over the Olympic champions (and everyone else!) this season, but that was not to be the case this time.

Jones scored two in end one, then another two in end four to lead 4-1 at halfway. Homan got two back, but three in end six stretched Jones’ lead out to 7-3, and Homan couldn’t pull that back – the Jones rink winning 7-5.

As for the men’s final, Team Carruthers got the better of Team Epping to claim victory, but only after two extra ends.

The first three ends were blanked by Carruthers, who took one in the fourth. Epping scored two in end five, Carruthers two in end seven and Epping one in end eight.

The first extra end was blanked, but Carruthers got their one in the second for the inaugural title – and to round off the curling season for 2015-16.

***

Back across the Atlantic, the European Championships C-Division was held in Ljubljana, Slovenia – with four places at the main Europeans event in Braehead in November at stake.

Ireland had men’s and women’s teams taking part, with the competition involving a round robin and then playoffs.

Ireland men (Alan Mitchell, Andrew Gilmore, Bob Sherrard, Tom Roche, John Gilmore (alternate)) started with a win against Serbia, 8-4, but were then beaten 10-3 by Estonia.

They hit back by defeating Croatia 8-3 but then lost again, 6-4 against Bulgaria.

A 6-3 win over France got them back on track, and they followed that with wins over Luxembourg (9-8), Andorra (12-1) and Romania (10-4).

Defeat to Belarus, 6-4, meant they had to win their last pool match to make playoffs – which they did, 8-5 against Iceland.

They were placed in the 3v4 game against Bulgaria. After leading 3-0 after two ends and 6-3 after eight, the Irish were taken to an extra end – where they scored three to win 9-6 and progress.

Qualification for Braehead came down to the silver medal match with France. Ireland blanked the first two ends, then scored three in end three.

But France scored two in end four, stole two in end five and stole a single in end six to take control. Ireland pulled it back to 5-5 after eight but the French scored two in end nine.

The 10th end ultimately rested on a final draw for the Irish, which came up a couple of inches short – that meant a score of one and a 7-6 win for France.

France joined gold winners Estonia in being promoted to European B-Division for next season – but for the disappointed Irish it must be said that bronze represents a superb result beyond expectation.

As for Ireland women (Ailsa Anderson, Katie Kerr, Hazel Gormley-Leahy, Clare McCormick), they also opened the round robin with a win, 9-6 versus Romania.

But sadly their luck ran out there, as they suffered six consecutive defeats – against Croatia (10-9), Lithuania (6-5), Slovenia (10-5), Spain (10-1), Belarus (8-3) and Austria (13-5) – to bow out early.

Belarus claimed women’s gold, with Lithuania joining them in winning promotion to the B-Division.