Weekend round-up: Team Muirhead win third Players’ Championship

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Team Muirhead, Players’ Championship winners (photo: Grand Slam of Curling/Anil Mungal)

Team Muirhead reigned supreme in Toronto once again, winning their third Players’ Championship in the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

It was also a successful competition for Team Murdoch, as they reached their first ever semi-final at a Grand Slam of Curling event.

Meanwhile, in Karlstad, Sweden, Scotland’s teams have begun their campaigns at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship and World Senior Curling Championships.

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Team Muirhead – Eve Muirhead, Vicki Adams and Sarah Reid being joined by Cathy Overton-Clapham at second, with regular vice-skip Anna Sloan still out with her ACL injury – went into the Players’ Championship as holders.

They began well, beating Team Pätz 6-5 with twos in ends three and six, plus a steal in end four.

Muirhead then lost 8-5 to Team Rocque (giving up a five in end six) but bounced back with wins over Teams Sweeting (4-3) and Jones (7-4), the latter seeing them go 5-0 up after four ends and seeing it out.

They finished off the pool stage with a 5-4 victory over Team Sidorova (stealing one in end two and scoring two in end four), which set up a quarter-final against Team Brown.

The Scots overwhelmed their American opponents, scoring twos in ends one and three, stealing three in end four and then finishing the game with a five in end seven for a 12-4 scoreline.

The quarters also saw a shock exit for Team Homan, the top women’s rink this season, to Team Einarson (7-6, after being 6-2 up), but not before they had sealed the Rogers Grand Slam Cup for their consistency in the big events.

In the semi-finals, Muirhead had another fast start, scoring threes in ends two and four as they overcame Team Tirinzoni 7-2, in a repeat of the Perth Ladies International final.

It was a clash of the multiple Players’ Championship winners in the final in Toronto, as Muirhead (two titles) took on Jones (five titles).

Muirhead made a clutch draw against four for one in end one, then stole in end two to lead 2-0. Jones hit back with three in end three, but a two for Muirhead in end four nudged them back ahead at halfway.

Jones was forced to one in end five, before Muirhead blew the game open with two excellent skip stones to score three.

The Canadians scored two in end seven to narrow the gap to one, but the Muirhead rink held their nerve in end eight, scoring two to win the game 9-6 and clinch another title.

Skip Muirhead said: “I just seem to really love it here. It seems to bring out the best [in us]. Three times we’ve been here and three times won it.

“I’m happy it’s here the next year as well. I think it’s really the crowd that makes it. The ice conditions have been fantastic. My team has been great all week.”

This title caps a hugely successful couple of weeks since Worlds, having won in Perth and Toronto now, and is a testament to the fine work of ‘super spare’ Overton-Clapham.

It also secures Team Muirhead a spot in the season-ending Champions Cup, which runs April 26-May 1.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) were placed in a tough-looking group but came through with three wins to two losses.

After taking Team McEwen to an extra end before losing 7-6, they defeated Team Shuster 8-6 – stealing two in the extra end!

They followed that up by beating Team Laycock 8-6, with two in four, three in end six and two in end eight – and then came another match with an extra end, or rather two extra ends, as David Murdoch made an extraordinary shot to clear the house to blank, before claiming one in the extra extra to win 6-5.

Murdoch lost 5-2 to Team Gushue (giving up a four in end five) in their last pool stage game, but they had still secured a quarter-final spot.

There they played Team Howard, taking the victory 8-2 thanks to three in end three, two in end five and a steal of two in end six.

That set up another match with Gushue, and again Gushue proved too strong – scoring twos in ends one, five and seven to win 6-2 – but it was a great run by the Murdoch rink (to their first ever Grand Slam semi) who, like Muirhead, are having a strong finish to the season.

Gushue, the Rogers Grand Slam Cup winner on the men’s side, went on to win a tight final against Team Jacobs, stealing one in end two, scoring two in end six and blanking end eight to win 5-4.

For more photos from the event, see the gallery here, and – as ever – Ben Hebert’s Sheet Show is a delight.

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Back in Europe, the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship and World Senior Curling Championships are underway.

At time of writing, Scotland’s mixed doubles pairing of Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat sit W1 L1 after a 9-8 victory over Russia (stealing one in the extra end) and a 8-2 defeat to the Czech Republic.

Anna and Ben Fowler of England sit on two wins after being Romania and Luxembourg, while Wales’ Dawn Watson and Adrian Meikle have one win (over Qatar) and one loss (to Brazil) – and Ireland (Alison and Neil Fyfe) are also W1 L1 having beaten Italy and lost to Canada.

Follow live scores from the rest of the tournament here, and watch selected games on World Curling TV.

In World Seniors, meanwhile, Scotland men (Gordon Muirhead, Norman Brown, David Hay, Hugh Aitken) won their first match 7-4 against the Czech Republic, but lost their second, 7-6 against the USA after an extra end.

They bounced back with a win in their third game though, 7-2 versus Latvia.

Scotland women (Jackie Lockhart, Christine Cannon, Isobel Hannen, Margaret Richardson, Margaret Robertson (alternate)) won their opener 9-1 versus Italy and they followed that up with 8-1 victories over Switzerland and New Zealand.

As for the other teams from the British Isles, both England men and women sit W4 L0, Wales men are W2 L2, and Ireland men W4 L1.

Keep up to date with World Seniors scores throughout the week here.

Weekend round-up: Scotland bounce back at World Women’s

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Team Scotland in Swift Current: Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid, Rachel Hannen

Scotland sit on two wins and one loss after day two of the World Women’s Championship in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Elsewhere, Judith and Lee McCleary were runners-up at the Westbay Ltd Hungarian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup, while several other events took place involving Scottish and English teams.

And Team Gushue won the latest Grand Slam of Curling event, the Elite 10, after women’s rink Team Homan made a little history by taking on the men.

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Scotland sat out the first session of play at World Women’s in Canada, then were beaten 5-3 by Team Sigfridsson of Sweden in their opener, a two in end five and steal of one in end six proving crucial for the Swedes.

But they bounced back by beating Korea 8-6 – with twos in ends one, four and six – and then Germany 10-3 – taking two in end two, three in end four and stealing four in end seven.

So with all teams playing three times, it’s only Canada and Japan who sit unbeaten.

For linescores throughout the tournament, go here, while you can watch selected games on World Curling TV.

You can get updates on Scotland’s games here, plus the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.

And photos from the event can be found here and here.

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The Westbay Ltd Hungarian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup involved the Scottish pair Judith and Lee McCleary.

At the quarter-final stage, they defeated Michelle Gribi and Reto Gribi of Switzerland 9-4, before overcoming Victoria Moiseeva and Petr Dron of Russia 7-6 in the semi-finals.

They faced another Russian pair, Anastasia Bryzgalova and Alexander Krushelnitskiy, in the final – despite a four in end two and three in end five for the Scots, the game went to an extra end, and the Russians were victorious 10-9.

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In Scotland, the Scottish Curling Pairs Championship was played in Stranraer, and was won by Lockerbie (Scott Hamilton/Robert Hamilton), 5-2 victors in the final against Murrayfield 1.

Meanwhile, the RCCC Funspiel took place in Braehead – with Stranraer 1 winning the under-15 final and Lockerbie triumphant in the under-13 final.

And Greenacres hosted the English Mixed Championship, which featured five teams playing a double round robin before a final between the rinks skipped by Greg Dunn and Andrew Woolston.

Dunn and his team of Angharad Ward, Nigel Patrick and Lorna Rettig won 6-4 for the title and a spot at the World Mixed Curling Championship in Kazan, Russia, in October.

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Finally, the Grand Slam of Curling Elite 10 was held in Victoria, British Colombia, featuring eight Canadian men’s teams, one Swedish men’s team (Niklas Edin’s rink) and one Canadian women’s team, that of Rachel Homan.

Team Homan played four pool matches against men’s rinks (the games using match play format) and won one of their ‘battles of the sexes’ by defeating Team Thomas.

But ultimately the competition came down to a final between Teams Carruthers and Gushue.

Gushue went two up, Carruthers pulled it back level and the title was decided by a shootout to the button – won by Brad Gushue.

 

Curling 2015-16: Mid-season review

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As we wave goodbye to 2015, it’s time for a look back at some of the events and stories from the first half of the curling season, and the Scottish teams’ part in them.

For all the talk of new broom technology ruining the sport, there was still a great deal that was familiar: brilliant events, Canadian Grand Slam dominance and Team Edin winning the biggest prizes…

Edin and Sidorova conquer Europeans
Esbjerg, Denmark, was the setting for the 2015 European Curling Championships and did a great job – competitors praised the ice, the volunteers and the fact that the A and B arenas were on the same site.

Scotland’s representatives were Team Smith for the men’s section and Team Muirhead in the women’s.

Smith had seen off Teams Brewster, MacDonald and Murdoch to qualify for Esbjerg, but their relative inexperience (this was a first men’s Europeans for the 2013 World Juniors champions) seemed to tell early on.

They slid to a W1 L4 record with defeats against Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands – their A-Division status seemed to be at stake and playoff hopes a distant dream.

But suddenly it clicked into place. Finland were beaten 7-3 and from there Smith reeled off the wins against Italy, Russia and Germany – they had their confidence back, and were making the big shots.

They had secured Scotland’s spot at the 2016 World Men’s Championship, but faced a tiebreaker against Sweden to make the semi-finals.

They were edged out 8-7 by Edin’s Swedish rink – a disappointment after their run of wins, but undoubtedly a fine European debut for Smith.

There was less drama for Team Muirhead in making the women’s playoffs, as they racked up seven wins from nine.

The drama was saved for their semi-final with Finland, as the Finns led 5-0 after three ends and the game looked to be slipping away from the Scots.

But the nightmarish start was followed by seven ends of professional and increasingly dominant curling from Muirhead’s rink, dragging themselves back to 6-6 after seven ends and stealing two in end eight for a lead they never relinquished.

It was not to be the perfect ending for Muirhead, as Team Sidorova of Russia won the final 6-4 – but the silver medals represented a step up from last year (where they won bronze), both on the podium and in terms of quality, delighting coach David Hay with their consistent level of performance.

Gold for Sidorova was a fitting reward for a team who operated with an air of composure and control throughout the week – while in the men’s competition it was Sweden who took top spot.

Having narrowly beaten Scotland in the tiebreaker, Team Edin got up to their 2014-15 tricks again, really turning it on when it mattered to beat Norway in the semi-finals and Switzerland in the final.

Homan hammer Grand Slam rivals
While the four Grand Slam of Curling men’s titles played for so far have gone to four different winners – Team Koe claimed the Tour Challenge, Team McEwen the Masters, Team Gushue the National and Team Epping the Canadian Open (angle raises ahoy) – there’s been one team ruling the women’s events.

Team Homan may have lost the Tour Challenge final to Team Tirinzoni of Switzerland, but since then they’ve been winning. A lot.

The Masters, National and Canadian Open all fell before them, three of their titles in a season that has seen them take more than $160,000 in tournament winnings… with plenty more to come in 2016, no doubt.

As for the Scots… well, Tirinzoni’s Tour Challenge win is the only Grand Slam title not to go to a Canadian rink at this point in the season, so it’s been an uphill battle.

Teams Brewster and Smith reached the semi-finals of the Tour Challenge tier 2, but the Olympians of Team Murdoch struggled – at least up until the Canadian Open, where they went out at the quarter-final stage after earlier notching wins over Teams Jacobs, Laycock and Bottcher.

In the women’s Grand Slams, Muirhead made the quarter-finals of the Tour Challenge (beaten by Homan) and semi-finals of the Canadian Open, Team Jones denying the defending champions a spot in the final.

With those results – as well as being runner-up at both Europeans and the Stockholm Ladies Cup, plus semi-finalists at the Women’s Masters Basel – it’s been a consistent enough season so far. Indeed their skip believes they’re in a better place than they were at this point in 2014.

One more thing from the Grand Slams: Gushue’s fall at the Masters.

As well as prompting discussion about whether helmets should be worn on the ice, it also raised the issue of concussion.

Gushue miraculously (or, perhaps, dangerously) returned towards the end of the game in which he fell – but should that have been his decision to make, or one for an objective party, i.e. a doctor?

Curling Canada is now looking to create the sport’s first concussion protocol ready for the 2016-17 season, which can only be a good thing.

Scots winning at home and away
So it’s been nearly but not quite for the Scottish teams so far in 2015-16? Not exactly.

Smith claimed the spoils at the Goldline Scottish Curling Tour Edinburgh International, seeing off Van Dorp’s Dutchmen, their other most notable performance coming at the Swiss Cup Basel, where they fell to Gushue in the semi-finals.

Brewster won the Curling Night in America men’s event held in Eveleth, as well as finishing runners-up to Edin at the Baden Masters in August and to compatriots Team Mouat at the Champions Curling Tour event in Dumfries this month.

Mouat had previously won the BrokerLink OVCA Junior Superspiel in Ottawa, Canada – a week after beating Epping twice on the way to the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau semis – and also the Forfar Open on the Scottish Curling Tour.

The team currently holding the most Scottish Curling Tour titles this season, though, are Team Hardie, who won both the Braehead and Dumfries Opens.

Just a few days before Christmas, Murdoch won the Karuizawa International in Japan, seeing off Pat Simmons’ rink in the final, and taking momentum into 2016.

On the women’s side of things, Team Gray won the Dumfries Challenger CCT ladies event, having reached the semi-finals of the Dave Jones Northbridge Mayflower Cashspiel and quarter-finals at the Boundary Ford Classic, both in Canada, earlier in the season.

Team Fleming have had a tough few months, although they did make the quarters at the Women’s Masters Basel and semis at the Medicine Hat Charity Classic in Alberta.

The future’s bright
Scotland’s hopes for future success also performed well in the first part of the season.

The first leg of the Asham Under-21 Slam was held in Greenacres and the men’s section was won by Team Whyte, while the women’s title went to Karina Aitken’s rink.

From there, while the men’s events were won by a different team each time, Team Murray went all Homan on their opponents and claimed top spot at Kinross, Inverness and Lockerbie.

As for the junior men, Team Bryce won in Kinross, Team Brydone in Inverness and Team McNay in Lockerbie.

There were also Scottish teams involved in the European Junior Curling Tour events – several picking up medals.

Team Jackson won gold at the Braehead Junior International in September, while Mouat won men’s bronze.

Brydone and K Aitken won silver and bronze respectively at the EJCT event in Oslo, Norway, while Bryce and Murray took third and fourth respectively in Thun, Switzerland.

Hopes for 2016
The next year promises to be a big one for Scotland. Tour events begin with the Perth Masters, which has again attracted a world class field, from January 7-10.

Others include the Glynhill Ladies International (also January), Aberdeen City Open (February), Aberdeen International (March) and Perth Ladies International (April).

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club hopes for increased media attention and spectator numbers for these, and the Scottish Championships in February of course, ahead of Braehead hosting the 2016 Europeans in November.

Another area of potential growth is in mixed curling, boosted by mixed doubles’ inclusion in the 2018 Olympics.

Scotland (Cameron Bryce, Katie Murray, Bobby Lammie and Sophie Jackson) were a tiebreaker away from making the quarter-finals of the inaugural World Mixed Curling Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in September.

In April 2016 we have the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden – Scotland will be represented by Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken, and hopefully they can lay down a marker for the nation at this key time in the development of the discipline.

One more hope for the year to come: a concrete resolution to #broomgate.

Following complaints about ‘joystick curling’ and teams calling others ‘cheats’, certain broom heads were banned, at least temporarily, at elite level while the sports governing bodies try to sort it out.

It’s not an easy thing to do. How do you answer questions such as:
– How effective a broom is too effective?
– What should the balance be between good shot-making and good sweeping?
– What should the balance be between getting in the best physical shape and getting the best out of your equipment?
– Can the World Curling Federation be seen to make objective calls when it is sponsored by some broom suppliers (Balance Plus and Goldline) and not others (notably Hardline)?

However those in charge of the sport come to a conclusion (I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes!), it must involve the global curling community and the testing/decision-making process must be transparent.

Or, in other words, what these guys said.

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Thanks for reading and supporting The Roaring Game Blog in its first few months… may you, dear reader, and the sport have a fantastic 2016!

Weekend round-up: GSOC Canadian Open and Scottish Mixed Doubles

Teams Muirhead and Murdoch both had solid runs in the Grand Slam of Curling Canadian Open in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, while Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken won the Scottish Curling Mixed Doubles Championship in Braehead.

The Canadian Open, rather than a round robin, had a triple knockout system (A, B and C-Roads – teams had to win three games before they lost three) leading to the playoffs.

In the men’s competitions, Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) were handed a tough opening draw, facing Olympic champions Team Jacobs.

Jacobs took a 4-2 lead after five ends, but Murdoch scored two in end six and then stole singles in ends seven and eight for the victory.

Their next opponent was local favourites Team Laycock – it was an extremely tight encounter that was 4-4 going into an extra end, but crucially Murdoch had hammer in the extra and scored one to win 5-4.

That win put them one game away from the playoffs – in their way, Team Gushue.

Gushue held a 5-2 lead into end eight but Murdoch managed to score three to force an extra – the Canadian rink, though, scored two to win the game 7-5 and reach the last eight.

Murdoch were not waiting long to join them however, thanks to a win in their next game against the young Canadians of Team Bottcher.

Bottcher lead 3-2 after four ends, but twos for Murdoch in ends five and eight meant a 6-5 victory and wrapped up a playoff spot.

Also making the playoffs were Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid), who recorded a similar W3 L1 record on the women’s side of the event.

They began with a 5-4 win over Team Carey, scoring twos in ends three and five, before stealing one in end six to put the game out of Carey’s reach.

Their next result was a loss, however, as they were outgunned by world champions Team Pätz of Switzerland.

The Swiss rink scored three in end two, stole two in end three and scored another three in end seven to win 9-3.

That meant the Scots dropped down to the B-Road, where they faced another Swiss test – but this time it was Muirhead who won with a big score.

A three in end three put them in a strong position, strengthened by two in end five and finished off by four in end seven for a 10-3 victory.

That set up a B-Road qualifier against Team Tirinzoni, the third consecutive Swiss opponent for Muirhead, and the Scots started well with a steal of two in end three.

Tirinzoni pulled the game back to 3-2, but a three in end six and a steal of one in end seven secured the win 7-2 and with it a quarter-final place.

Come the playoffs, Murdoch faced Team Carruthers and were on the back foot as early as end two, when the Canadians scored three.

The teams exhanged ones up to end seven, when Carruthers scored two for a 6-3 lead – then running Murdoch out of stones for the win.

Murdoch had fallen then, and Muirhead faced a similarly tough quarter final against Team Sweeting.

In what was a nightmare start for opposing skip Val Sweeting, the Scots took a 4-0 lead after four ends thanks to three consecutive steals of one, their opponents passing up opportunities for a couple of big ends.

Sweeting, undeterred, scored three in end five and two in end seven to bring the game back to 5-5 – but Muirhead held hammer in end eight and scored her one to win 6-5.

The semi finals pitted Muirhead against Team Jones, gold medal winners in Sochi.

The first half of the game was one of forces, each rink taking ones for a 2-2 scoreline after end four.

But Jones turned the screw after that, stealing one in end five and then twos in ends six and seven to win the game 7-2 and knock Muirhead out.

Jones started well in the women’s final against Team Homan, scoring two in end one and three in end three, but steals of one in ends five and six put Homan into a 6-5 lead.

Jones scored two in end seven but Homan replied with a two of their own in end eight to win 8-7 for their third Grand Slam title of an already extraordinary season.

The final match of the event was the men’s final, between Teams Epping and Gushue.

Both teams were unbeaten up to this point, but skip John Epping had been gaining a reputation for pulling off spectacular angle raises.

Gushue were simply overrun by their opponents, who scored twos in ends two and four courtesy of their skip making those raises look simple, before a double takeout scored three in end six – Gushue shaking hands at 7-4.

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Back in Scotland, the Scottish Curling Mixed Doubles Championship was held in Braehead from Thursday to Sunday.

At stake, the right to represent Scotland at the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden, in April – with increased attention on the discipline following news that mixed doubles curling will be a medal event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The pair of Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken topped the round robin, with six wins and just one loss, followed by Lee McCleary/Judith McCleary and Grant Hardie/Abi Brown, both W5 L2.

There was a tiebreaker for the final semi-final spot, with John Duff/Hailey Duff coming out on top against Ross Whyte/Sophie Jackson 8-6.

In the last four, Mouat/Aitken scored three in end three and stole one in end six on their way to a 6-3 win over Duff/Duff.

Scotland’s last representatives at the World Mixed event, the McClearys, were beaten in the other semi, as Hardie/Brown scored four in end four and stole two in end seven to win 9-4.

In the final, Mouat/Aitken had the fast start, scoring twos in ends one and three and stealing two in end four for a 6-1 lead.

However, Hardie/Brown stole three in end six to put themselves right back in it at 6-5.

Mouat and Aitken, though, maintained their composure, scoring one in end seven and stealing one in end eight after Brown’s attempted raise takeout was narrowly off target.

That meant an 8-5 triumph for Mouat and Aitken, securing their place as Scotland’s representatives in Sweden in April 2016.

Bruce Mouat told British Curling afterwards: “It is very special to win a national title and to go on to represent your country at a World Championship is a great honour.

“Gina and I have not had a great amount of practice leading up to the Mixed Doubles but my rink has enjoyed good results so I knew the form was there, even though for the doubles it is different as you have more stones in play.

“Our first few games went well so that helped to have a few wins under the belt, we then had a slight dip on Saturday and in the final I missed a hit in the sixth end and left Gina in a difficult position and our opponents were able to score a three there.

“But my team has a saying which is ‘bin it’ if you miss a shot, which basically means don’t over think it and just move on. Throughout the tournament we have been consistent.”

GSOC Masters: McEwen and Homan win titles as Scots make early exits

There was disappointment for the Scottish teams competing at the Grand Slam of Curling Masters in Truro, Nova Scotia, both making early exits before Teams McEwen and Homan picked up the men’s and women’s titles respectively.

In the men’s competition, Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) were drawn in a group alongside Teams Edin, Epping, Gushue and Howard.

They began against Howard, and took a 3-2 lead into the fourth end break. However, a score of four in end six for Howard proved critical, the Canadians running out 7-5 winners.

Murdoch then lost to Epping, largely due to a disastrous start which saw them 5-0 down after two ends – Epping winning 7-3 after six ends.

The Scottish rink did win their next match, however – against world champions Edin of Sweden. With skip Murdoch shooting 95%, they scored twos in the first two ends to come out 6-1 victors.

But to make the playoffs Murdoch would need to do what very few teams have managed this season and defeat Team Gushue.

It proved a bridge too far, the Canadians scoring twos in ends two, six and seven for a 7-3 win.

Gushue went out in the quarter finals following a nasty fall on the ice by their skip, which saw play halt on all sheets as he received medical attention – although he somehow managed to return to play towards the end of the match.

The final was played between Teams Cotter and McEwen, and it was McEwen who took the game and the title 5-3 – with their skip shooting an extraordinary 99%.

As for the women’s side of the competition, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) faced Teams Einarson, Feltscher, McDonald and Sweeting in the pool stage.

In their opening match, Einarson, the Tour Challenge tier 2 winners, pulled off a shock by stealing two in end four and scoring three in end six for a 7-6 win.

The Muirhead rink were back to winning ways in their next game, stealing two in end two for a 3-0 lead and holding on to beat McDonald 5-4.

But a defeat to Team Feltscher, 6-5, meant that the Scots would need to beat Team Sweeting to give themselves a chance at making the playoffs.

Steals in ends six and eight gave Sweeting a 5-2 win, Muirhead going out on the same record as Murdoch, W1 L3.

Three of the four semi finalists – Teams Einarson, McDonald and Sweeting – came from Muirhead’s group, Sweeting seeing off Einarson 5-3 to set up a final with Team Homan.

But it was Homan who were dominant in the final – Rachel Homan mirroring Mike McEwen with 99% and her skip Emma Miskew shooting 94% – as they won 6-4 to claim their third Masters title in three years.

GSOC Masters: Preview

There are just two Scottish teams competing in the second Grand Slam of Curling event of the season – the Masters, October 27-November 1, in Truro, Nova Scotia – Team Murdoch on the men’s side and Team Muirhead on the women’s.

The Scots are among 15 men’s and 15 women’s teams divided into three groups of five, with a round robin format deciding the top eight on each side to progress to the playoffs.

Who do they face, and what are their chances? Well, read on to find out.

Team Murdoch
The rink of David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow have been handed a tough draw, facing three experienced Canadian teams and the current world champions.

David Murdoch (Photo: Anil Mungal/Grand Slam of Curling)
David Murdoch (Photo: Anil Mungal (@PhotoVagrant)/Grand Slam of Curling)

Their first match is tomorrow, against Team Howard. Four-time world champion Glenn Howard reshuffled his team for this season, bringing in Wayne Middaugh at third, moving Richard Hart to second and adding his own son Scott at lead.
The combination has worked well so far, as the team reached the quarter finals of the first Grand Slam of the season, the Tour Challenge, only to be beaten by Team Gushue, then made the finals of the Shorty Jenkins Classic (beaten by Gushue again) and Toronto Tankard (beaten by Team McEwen).
They did, however, fail to make the playoffs in their last competition, the Canad Inns Men’s Classic.

The second match comes on Thursday, against Team Epping. It has been chop and change for skip John Epping recently, and this year he plays alongside Mathew Camm, Patrick Janssen and Tim March.
The quarter finals have been their limit this season, getting to that stage at the Shorty Jenkins Classic (beaten by Gushue) and the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau last weekend, where they were beaten by Team Mouat of Scotland.
Otherwise, they failed to make the playoffs at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Tour Challenge, Point Optical Classic and Toronto Tankard.

After that, on Friday, Murdoch face Team Edin. The Swedes (Niklas Edin, Oskar Eriksson, Kristian Lindström, Christoffer Sundgren), who won the world title in Halifax in April, began their 2015-16 season by winning the Baden Masters, beating Team Brewster in the final.
Since then, they made the Oakville Tankard quarter finals (lost to Gushue), failed to make the Tour Challenge playoffs (one of their losses being to Murdoch) and then reached three quarter finals – at the Shorty Jenkins Classic (beaten by Howard), Point Optical Classic (lost to Team Jacobs) and Toronto Tankard (again beaten by Jacobs).
Most recently, they’ve gone out before the playoff stage at both the Canad Inns Men’s Classic and the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau.

And Murdoch finish off with another Friday game, this time against Team Gushue (Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker).
Gushue’s rink are undoubtedly the form team in world curling. They have picked up titles at the Oakville Tankard, Shorty Jenkins Classic, Swiss Cup Basel and, just this past weekend, the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau.
The only exceptions to the winning rule came at the Tour Challenge, where they lost the final to Team Koe, and the Toronto Tankard, where they lost in the quarter finals to McEwen.

Verdict: Can Murdoch win enough games in this group to make the playoffs? It looks a tough ask. Like Epping, their limit this season has been the quarter finals (at the Baden Masters and Oakville Tankard); they fell short of making the playoffs at the Tour Challenge, and couldn’t reach the last eight at last weekend’s Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau.
Results aren’t what the team would want them to be at the moment – and faced with form teams in Gushue and Howard, it’s going to be tricky for Murdoch to turn things round here.

Team Muirhead
Fresh from qualifying for the European Championships next month, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid – the latter returning from injury) face three Canadian teams and one Swiss in Truro.

Eve Muirhead (photo: Anil Mungal/Grand Slam of Curling)
Eve Muirhead (Photo: Anil Mungal (@PhotoVagrant)/Grand Slam of Curling)

They begin against Team Einarson tonight. The Canadians (Kerri Einarson, Selena Kaatz, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish) won their first championship together at the Tour Challenge Tier 2, claiming $9,200 and a place at the Masters.
Since then, they’ve made semi finals at the Mother Club Fall Classic (lost to eventual winners Team Montford) and Prestige Hotels & Resorts Classic (beaten by eventual winners Team Lawton), before failing to make the playoffs at the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Classic and then reaching the Canad Inns Women’s Classic quarters (lost to Englot).

Muirhead’s next opposition are Team McDonald tomorrow. This rink (Kristy McDonald, Kate Cameron, Leslie Wilson-Westcott, Raunora Westcott), formed last season, have been all about the quarter finals so far in 2015-16.
That was the stage they reached at the Tour Challenge (beaten by Team Kim), Mother Club Fall Classic (lost to Team Link) and Canad Inns Women’s Classic (beaten by eventual winners Team Kim).

Thursday evening sees Muirhead face Team Feltscher. The 2014 women’s world champions (Binia Feltscher, Irene Schori, Franziska Kaufmann, Christine Urech) have had a mixed season.
They fell short of the Tour Challenge playoffs (finishing with a W1 L3 record), then failed to make the Stockholm Ladies Cup last eight, placing third in their group behind Östlund and Muirhead.
They did then reach the Womens Masters semi finals, going out to Team Tirinzoni, and most recently were in the final of the Swiss European Championships qualifiers, only to lose out to Team Pätz.

Muirhead round off their round robin with a match on Friday morning against Team Sweeting (Val Sweeting, Lori Olson-Johns, Dana Ferguson, Rachel Brown), who won last season’s Masters and finished second at the 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
After making the quarter finals at the Oakville Tankard (lost to Pätz), Sweeting failed to get off the ground at the Tour Challenge, finishing W1 L3.
They have picked up since then, though, winning the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out and reaching the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Classic semi finals, being knocked out by Team Carey.

Verdict: On paper, Muirhead look to have a kinder draw than Murdoch. But it’s no stroll in the park either, as even the underdogs of the group, Einarson, are very capable of a shock.
Feltscher have the pedigree, McDonald a knack of reaching playoffs and Sweeting are deservedly seen as one of Canada’s top three women’s teams alongside Homan and Jones.
Nonetheless, if Muirhead’s rink maintain their focus and show the form that got them to the Stockholm Ladies Cup final and Womens Masters Basel semis, they should at least make the playoffs in Nova Scotia.

The full Masters draw schedule is here. And you can watch games live online from Thursday on Sportsnet (the link to subscribe is here).

GSOC Tour Challenge: Scottish teams drop short

Three of the four Scottish rinks in Paradise reached the Tour Challenge knock-out stages, but were unable to go the distance as Canadian and Swiss teams triumphed.

Teams Murdoch (men’s tier 1), Muirhead (women’s tier 1), Brewster and Smith (both men’s tier 2) travelled to Newfoundland for the first Grand Slam of Curling event of the season.

The event was organised into tier 1 (15 men’s and 15 women’s teams from the top of the world rankings) and tier 2 (15 men’s and 15 women’s teams invited based on order of merit standings or from the region) sections – with a pool stage followed by quarter finals, semi finals and finals.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) began their men’s tier 1 campaign with a superb 6-4 victory over reigning world champions Team Edin of Sweden. Scores of two in ends four and six proved vital for the Scottish rink, as did the 96 per cent shooting accuracy of Drummond at third.

However, that was as good as it got for the team, as they then suffered three consecutive defeats against Teams Gushue (3-7), Casey (4-7) and Carruthers (5-6) to slip out of contention for the knock-out stage.

The event was won by Team Kevin Koe, who defeated Oakville Tankard winners Team Gushue 4-3 in an extra end final victory.

In the women’s section, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) got off to a winning start by defeating the Swiss rink of Silvana Tirinzoni 5-4, thanks to a steal of one in end four and a two in end six.

But that opening victory was followed by defeat to Team Kim of Korea, the Scots going down 6-8 after conceding two in the extra end.

They were back on track in their third match, though, scoring five in end five to post a fine 7-1 win over the women’s world champions Team Pätz.

A 5-9 loss to Team Fleury in their final pool match meant they finished on a W2 L2 record and had to negotiate a tiebreaker with Olympic champions Team Jones – which they did 5-4, thanks to a steal of one in end eight.

The quarter finals saw them face Team Homan, and the in-form Canadians triumphed 7-3 to end Team Muirhead’s challenge. Reaching the last eight of a Slam event in their first competition of 2015-16, however, was a pleasing enough result.

Team Homan were eventual finalists, but were shocked by Team Tirinzoni (beaten in their opening match by Muirhead you may remember), the Swiss team stealing two in end eight to win 6-5 and claim the title.

In tier 2, both Scottish teams cruised through to the quarter finals.

Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) were beaten 2-7 by Team Cotter in their opening match but then recorded three victories in a row – 5-3 versus Team Symonds, 7-5 over Team Stevens and 6-5 over Team Thomas – to qualify for the quarter finals.

Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) began their competition with three wins – 4-2 over Team Grattan, 9-2 against Team Rowsell and 8-1 versus Team Fanset.

Although they then lost 4-5 against Team Kean, they had already done enough to join Team Brewster in the last eight.

There Team Smith had little trouble in dispatching Team Adams by a 9-2 scoreline (notching five in end five), while Team Brewster beat Team Balsdon 7-4.

Neither could make the final, however, as Team Brewster lost 4-6 to Team Kean and Team Smith 2-9 against Team Cotter.

Cotter claimed the tier 2 title and a place in the GSOC Masters next month in Truro, Nova Scotia. The women’s tier 2 competition was won by another Canadian rink, Team Einarson.

The Scots in Newfoundland did at least finish off the week with a local tradition…