It was a case of ‘close but no cigar’ for both of Teams Bryce and Muirhead at the weekend.
Bryce made the semi-finals at the Latvia International Challenger, only to lose out to Team Stjerne, while Muirhead also got to the last four at the GSOC Masters, where they were beaten by Team Einarson.
There were two Scottish teams at the second Grand Slam of the season, the Masters, with Team GB’s Olympic representatives taking on the world’s best in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.
Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) were in Pool B of the men’s event alongside Teams Gushue, McEwen, Shuster and Ulsrud.
Opening defeats to Gushue (7-6) and Ulsrud (7-6) put them on the back foot right away, and although they managed to beat US rink Shuster (6-2), defeat to McEwen (6-3) ended their playoff hopes.
The title was won by reigning world champions Gushue, who beat Team Edin of Sweden 8-4 in the final.
In the women’s field, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) faced Teams Flaxey, Hasselborg, Sidorova and Sinclair in Pool A.
Wins against Sidorova (6-5) and Flaxey (7-6) got them off to an ideal start, and after a 6-4 loss to Sinclair, a 10-7 victory over Hasselborg secured their place in the knockout stages.
The quarter-finals pitted them against Team Pätz of Switzerland, with the Scots winning 5-4, thanks to two in end seven and a steal of one in the eighth.
But the last four proved their limit, as Canadians Einarson beat them 6-3 (with twos in ends three and six) – Muirhead’s conquerors finishing as runners-up to Jennifer Jones’ rink in the final (6-5).
Skip Eve Muirhead said: “Crowds have been great and to have such an atmosphere when playing is really something special; Canada really do know how to put on curling events!
“”Overall our two weeks have been a great success, beating three of the teams we are going to be coming up against in the Europeans and Korea, so this is all stepping stones towards these major events.”
The Latvia International Challenger involved Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Ross Whyte, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle) on the men’s side, and Team Wilson (Maggie Wilson, Jennifer Marshall, Laura Barr, Eilidh Yeats) – plus English rink Team Farnell – on the women’s.
Both British women’s teams had their challenges ended early, with Farnell going W0 L4 and Wilson W1 L3 – their win coming against Team Rudzite of the home nation, 7-6 after an extra end.
Bryce did much better though, continuing their rich vein of form at the start of this season, as they made the playoffs with wins over Teams Bremanis (7-2), Lill (10-4), Truksans (7-1) and a loss to Hess (7-6).
Following their 7-4 victory over Team Gulbis in the last eight (stealing three in the second end), Bryce’s challenge was ended by experienced Danes Team Stjerne, who won 7-2 and went on to claim the title, while Bryce ended with a 7-3 defeat against Team Wunderer in the third place match.
Also this weekend, the Lanarkshire leg of the Asham Under-21 Slam took place.
After 24 teams faced off across six groups, the high road final was contested by Teams Craik and McCormack, with the former (James Craik, Angus Bryce, Matthew McKenzie, Niall Ryder) scoring four in the third end on their way to a 6-2 triumph.
The 2016-17 season has already seen success for the likes of Team Bryce, Team Hardie, Team Jackson and Team Smith in Scotland and overseas, while last weekend Teams Fleming and Murdoch reached the final of Curling Champions Tour events.
October sees plenty more events, including the first Grand Slam of the season and those all-important European Championship Playdowns…
Team Hardie look to defend their title, and indeed repeat last season’s exploits, where they won both the Braehead Open and Dumfries Open to kick off their curling year in style. Other Scottish teams vying for the title include Team Mouat and Team Taylor, while there is a strong women’s representation through Teams G Aitken and Smith, as well as mixed teams and challengers from England and Wales.
Livechannel Cup(European Junior Curling Tour) Dates: October 7-9
Number of teams: 19 (14 boys’; 5 girls’)
Scottish team: Team Bryce
Prize money: SEK 40,000
Last year’s winners: Team Eremin (Russia); Team Panthera (Sweden)
Team Bryce fly the flag for Scotland at this European Junior Curling Tour event in Härnösand, Sweden. They’ve had an impressive start to their season, what with wins at the EJCT Braehead International and two Asham U21 Slams. Should Bryce emerge from their pool, the likes of Team Lottenbach (Switzerland) and Team Ramsfjell (Norway) pose threats.
The first RCCC national competition of the season returns to Stranraer, as 15 teams over over-50s (two males and two females in alternate positions) challenge for the honours in a social atmosphere. Trevor Dodds’ rink return to defend their title, as do last season’s runners-up Team Horton, and Team Craig, the winners the year before that.
Women’s Masters Basel(Curling Champions Tour) Dates: October 7-9
Number of teams: 24
Scottish teams: Team Fleming, Team Muirhead
Prize money: CHF 32,000
Last year’s winners: Team Sidorova (Russia)
Last season Team Fleming made the quarter-finals at this event in Switzerland, Team Muirhead the semis. Fleming performed superbly last weekend in making the Stockholm Ladies Cup final, while Muirhead made two finals out in Canada in the weeks before that. In this triple knockout competition, Fleming start against Team Schöpp, Muirhead versus Team Maillard. Other rinks to watch out for include those of Silvana Tirinzoni and the on-song Anna Hasselborg. Selected games will be livestreamed here.
Reigning champions Angus Bryce’s rink do not return, so there will be a new winner for the one-day U14 Slam. Teams, divided into four sections, will play four-end matches in their groups, before high and low road deciders.
Who will represent Scotland as the nation hosts the European Curling Championships in Braehead in November? In Perth, Teams Brewster, Murdoch and Smith will challenge for the men’s spot, while Teams Fleming and Muirhead contest the women’s. Fleming will be looking to pull off an upset over their best-of-five-match series, while the men’s teams play each other twice before a best-of-three final – Smith have started the season very well, Murdoch reached the Swiss Cup Basel final last weekend, and Brewster have pedigree aplenty.
Mixed doubles is catching on like wildfire and here we have another event, in Alberta, Canada. No Scottish teams are taking part in this one, but there are rinks representing China, Hungary, Russia and the USA, as well as 10 Canadian teams including Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant, 2016 Canadian Mixed Doubles champions.
World Mixed Curling Championship 2016(World Curling Federation) Dates: October 14-22
Number of teams: 37
Scottish team: Team Bryce
Last year’s winners: Team Walstad (Norway)
Kazan, Russia, hosts the second installment of the World Mixed Curling Championship, the first won by Norway last season. Scotland is represented by Cameron Bryce (skip), Katie Murray (a one-event detour back into the sport after stepping back this season), Bobby Lammie and Sophie Jackson. They face Belarus, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Romania in Group A. England, Wales and Ireland also have teams involved.
Austrian Mixed Doubles Cup(Curling Champions Tour) Dates: October 20-23
Number of teams: 12
Scottish team: Team Aitken/Mouat
Prize money: €2,800
Last year’s winners: Team Toth/Wunderer (Austria)
Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat made the quarter-finals at the Canad Inns Mixed Doubles last weekend, and they will be back in action in the new Olympic format in Kitzbühel, Austria. The likes of Oona Kauste/Tomi Rantamäki (Finland) and Ildikó Szekeres/György Nagy (Hungary) will provide stiff competition.
Curling Masters Champery(Curling Champions Tour) Dates: October 20-23
Number of teams: 24
Prize money: CHF 40,000
Last year’s winners: Team Grattan (Canada)
Teams Brewster and Smith participated in this event last season, but no Scots are taking part this time around (it is hot on the heels of the European Playdowns). There’s no lack of quality in the field in Switzerland though, with Teams De Cruz, Edin, Kauste and Ulsrud among the 24 involved.
Hazel Smith’s new rink (her team-mates being Sarah Reid, Laura Ritchie and Claire Hamilton) face a quality field in this cashspiel in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Teams Einarson, Fleury, Homan, Jones and McCarville are some of the Canadian sides involved in the triple knockout competition, while Teams Hasselborg, Kim (reigning champions), Tirinzoni and Wang lead the international challenge.
The next stage of the one-day U14 Slam events, following the one in Forfar earlier in the month. Last season’s winners Team Craik have aged out, so once again the contest is well and truly up for grabs among Scotland’s very young curlers.
Masters (Grand Slam of Curling) Dates: October 25-30
Number of teams: 30 (15 men’s; 15 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith; Team Muirhead
Prize money: $100,000; $100,000
Last year’s winners: Team McEwen (Canada); Team Homan (Canada)
The season’s opening Grand Slam takes place in Okotoks in Alberta, with three Scottish teams part of a world-class field based on the Order of Merit rankings up to 2016-17 week four. In the opening round-robin stage, Teams Murdoch and Smith (making their top Slam debut after competing in Tour Challenge tier 2 last season) face each other first up, before playing Teams Carruthers, McEwen and Morris. Team Muirhead are up against Teams Kim, Pätz, Rocque and – last but certainly not least! – Homan.
Riga International Curling Challenge (Curling Champions Tour) Dates: October 28-30
Number of teams: 12
Prize money: €3,000
Last year’s winners: Team Demkina (Russia)
This women’s competition held in Riga, Latvia, returns for a second year. No Scots on board, but Teams Barbezat (Switzerland), Driendl (Germany), Kauste (Finland), Lundman (Sweden) and Maillard (Switzerland) are Curling Champions Tour regulars.
Thirty teams, covering provinces across Scotland, are divided into six groups for this competition at Greenacres. Those sections then lead to quarter-finals, high and low road semi-finals and high and low road finals. The club teams competing have all won their provincial qualifier to get here.
As with the Province Championship, this competition features sections and knockouts heading towards high and low road finals – matches being up to six ends. Last year’s high road winners and runners-up, Teams Kinnear and Craik, are back – while Lisa Davie’s women’s rink, fourth at the Kinross Junior Classic U21 Slam last weekend, are also contenders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).