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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November curling preview

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The European Championships are coming to Scotland this month – photo: facebook.com/royalcaledoniancurlingclub

The European Curling Championships are in Braehead this month – what, you hadn’t heard? That’s the really big one, but what else is going on through November? Read on…

CookstownCash (World Curling Tour)
Dates: November 3-6
Number of teams: 40 (30 men’s; 10 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Smith
Last year’s winners: Team De Cruz (Switzerland)
Website: worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4337

Team Smith take on a host of local rinks in Cookstown, Ontario, as well as big-hitters such as Team Epping, Team Howard and Team De Cruz (defending champions). The competition begins with a pool stage ahead of knockouts – Smith are in Pool D with Teams Bailey, Gordon, Robillard and Ross.

Edinburgh International Curling Championship (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 18
Scottish teams: Team Bryce, Team Fraser, Team Hardie, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat
Last year’s winners: Team Hardie
Website: murrayfieldinternational.com

The Goldline Scottish Curling Tour’s third event of the season takes place at Murrayfield Curling in the capital. Hardie look to defend their title against home opposition and some more than capable challengers from abroad – chief among them 2016 World silver medallists Team Stjerne – with entries coming from the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and Wales.

Inverness Junior International (Asham U21 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 18 (10 boys’; 8 girls’)
Last year’s winners: Team Brydone; Team Murray
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-21-slam-inverness-junior-international-4/

Usual suspects on the Scottish circuit Team Bryce and Team Jackson are not taking part in this U21 Slam, which allows the likes of Team Whyte (boys’ side), Team K Aitken and Team MacDonald (girls’) the opportunity to take advantage by gaining vital ranking points.

World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 16
Last year’s winners: Norway
Website: worldcurling.org/wwhcc2017

Lohja in Finland hosts the Wheelchair-B Championship, where Scotland are represented by 2014 Winter Paralympic bronze medallist Aileen Neilson (skip), Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson and Angie Malone (alternate) – and hope to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish. England, skipped by Rosemary Lenton, also compete.

Pacific-Asia Curling Championships (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 5-12
Number of teams: 17 (9 men’s; 8 women’s)
Last year’s winners: Soo Hyuk Kim (Korea); Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan)
Website: worldcurling.org/pacc2016

With curling’s focus being steadily pulled eastwards both by the strength of Asian teams in world competitions and the location of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this event in Uiseong, South Korea, is one to watch. The women’s rinks of Bingyu Wang (China), Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan) and Kim Eunjung (Korea) make for a fearsome threesome and the competition between them is likely to be fierce. Rui Liu (China) and Yusuke Morozumi (Japan) are among those on the men’s side.

National Masters Curling Championship – Qualifiers (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 8-10
Number of teams: 30
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/national-masters-curling-championship-qualifiers/

Greenacres hosts the qualifying event for the National Masters Curling Championship, with Scottish curlers over the age of 60 eligible to take part. Thirty rinks in six sections are expected to compete for those qualification spots.

Tour Challenge (Grand Slam of Curling)
Dates: November 8-13
Number of teams: 60 (30 men’s; 30 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith (tier 1), Team Brewster, Team Mouat (tier 2); Team Fleming (tier 2)
Last year’s winners: Team Koe (tier 1), Team Cotter (tier 2); Team Tirinzoni (tier 1), Team Einarson (tier 2)
Website: thegrandslamofcurling.com

Grand Slams are like buses, apparently. Two in very quick succession! After the Masters in Okotoks, Alberta, it’s time for the Tour Challenge in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Teams Murdoch and Smith go in tier 1, where Team Edin will look to make it a Swedish double after taking the Masters. Teams Brewster and Mouat are in tier 2, while Team Fleming compete in women’s tier 2.

Forfar Open (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: November 11-13
Last year’s winners: Team Mouat; Team Jackson
Website: scottishcurlingtour.blogspot.co.uk

Forfar Indoor Sports’ unique competition – the sole Scottish Curling Tour event with a women’s section – returns. Team Mouat won’t be there to defend their title (see above), nor will Team Jackson (see below), so there’ll be two new champions this season.

World Junior Women’s B Playdown (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 11-13
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/world-junior-b-playdown/

Karina Aitken and Sophie Jackson’s rinks will battle it out over a best-of-five series to fly the Scottish flag at the World Junior B Curling Championships in January – and hopefully get Scotland promoted to the A-Division for next season.

ZO Women’s Tournament (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: November 11-13
Number of teams: 24
Scottish teams: Team Aitken, Team Muirhead, Team Smith
Last year’s winners: Team Feltscher (Switzerland)
Website: curling-wetzikon.ch/cms/zo-frauencurlingturnier/en/index_en.php

Team Muirhead warm up for the European Championships with this tournament in Wetzikon, Switzerland. They are joined by Teams Gina Aitken and Hazel Smith, as well as the likes of Teams Feltscher (Switzerland), Nielsen (Denmark) and Sidorova (Russia). There are four pools of six teams, with playoffs on the Sunday.

The Baljaffray Trophy (Asham U17 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 12-13
Number of teams: 24
Last year’s winners: Team Whyte
Website: competitions.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/competitions/asham-under-17-slam-the-baljaffray-trophy-3/

Greenacres hosts the latest round of the U17 Slam series. Teams Craik, Haswell and Kinnear will once again be expected to challenge for this title and ranking points, with overall winners gaining entry to a World Curling Federation junior curling camp in Germany next year.

Mixed Doubles Bern (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: November 18-20
Number of teams: 32
Scottish teams: Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat, Judith McCleary/Lee McCleary
Website: curlingbern.ch/turniere/2016-2017/1-mixed-doubles-bern/

Two Scottish pairs travel to Switzerland for this inaugural mixed doubles event, to challenge alongside 30 other teams including Szekeres/Nagy (Hungary), Bryzgalova/Krusheinitcki (Russia) and Perret/Rios (Switzerland). There are qualification matches, playoffs and a consolation cup.

 Red Deer Curling Classic (World Curling Tour)
Dates: November 18-21
Number of teams: 54 (32 men’s; 22 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith; Team Fleming
Last year’s winners: Team Lizmore; Team Rocque
Website: worldcurl.com/events.php?eventid=4233

Red Deer, Alberta, hosts this major World Curling Tour event (triple knockout format), with the three Scottish rinks taking part being the losing teams at the European Playdowns last month. Look out for the likes of Teams Bottcher, Koe, Carey and Rocque on the men’s and women’s sides.

European Curling Championships (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 19-26
Number of teams: 46 (26 men’s; 20 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Brewster; Team Muirhead
Last year’s winners: Team Edin (Sweden); Team Sidorova (Russia)
Website: worldcurling.org/ecc2016

It’s almost here! Braehead hosts the Europeans, with 46 teams in men’s and women’s A and B-Divisions. Can Team Brewster build on their last performance at Worlds? Will Team Edin reign supreme again (they’re on brilliant form)? Can Team Muirhead go one better than in Esbjerg, with Team Sidorova failing to qualify? Or is it time for Team Hasselborg’s true international arrival? So many questions, so many top curlers – let’s hope they attract big crowds.

European Playdowns: Teams Muirhead and Smith heading to Denmark

Team Muirhead went unbeaten as they qualified for the European Curling Championships in Esbjerg next month – and they will be joined in Denmark by Team Smith, who recovered from a poor start to win six straight games and book their own European spot.

The European Playdowns, held at the Dewars Centre in Perth, involved four men’s and three women’s teams, each playing double round robin matches for a place in the best-of-three finals.

Despite the loss of lead Sarah Reid to injury, Team Muirhead won all of their round robin matches to reach the women’s final.

Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan and Vicki Adams were joined by Rachel Hannen for the event, and they very nearly lost their first match playing together.

Going into the last end of their first game versus Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown) 6-5 down and without hammer, they managed to steal two points to win the game 7-6.

They then defeated Team Gray (Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds, Vicky Wright, Mhairi Baird) 6-5, before seeing off Fleming again 8-3 and Gray 11-1.

Gray won their first meeting with Fleming 7-6, but Fleming took the second 10-7, which meant a tiebreaker was needed to decide who would play Muirhead in the final. With a three in end five and twos in ends one, three and eight, it was Gray who won it 10-4.

The women’s final (Muirhead having a one-game start) saw Muirhead lead 5-2 after six ends, only for Gray to hit back with twos in ends seven and nine to level it up at 6-6. Muirhead had hammer in the decisive 10th end, though, and scored the one needed to win the final and qualify for Esbjerg.

The men’s double round robin saw Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) sprint out of the blocks, as they won their first three matches.

By contrast, Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) lost their first two games, leaving them behind Brewster and also Teams MacDonald (Ewan MacDonald, David Edwards, Ruairidh Greenwood, Euan Byers) and Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow).

The turning point for Smith was a Thursday evening game with MacDonald (which you can watch here) – a three in end six and twos in ends one and eight vital in an 8-4 win over the reigning Scottish champions.

Brewster lost both of their Friday games to Smith (8-5) and Murdoch (5-2), but then beat MacDonald 6-5 to claim a place in the final on a W4 L2 round robin record.

With MacDonald having fallen away to W1 L5, that left Murdoch and Smith in a straight shoot-out to make the final. And it was Smith who won that match, their fourth in a row, 8-3.

The first leg of the Brewster-Smith final went to an extra end, Brewster tying it up 6-6 in the 10th. That gave Smith hammer advantage in the extra, and they made good on that, scoring the one required for a 7-6 win.

And Smith wrapped up the final and European qualification with a 4-3 second-leg win, taking hammer into the 10th end and scoring the necessary one.

Teams Muirhead and Smith can now look ahead to representing Scotland at the European Curling Championships in Esbjerg from November 20-28.

See a photo gallery from the qualifiers in Perth here.

Greenacres Junior International: Teams Whyte and Aitken triumph

The first Asham Under-21 Slam event of the season brought success for two Royal Caledonian Curling Club Academy sides, Teams Whyte (in the men’s competition) and Aitken (women’s).

The event, held at Greenacres Curling Rink, Howwood, involved nine men’s teams, split into two pools, and six women’s teams – a round robin format being followed by semi finals and finals.

Team Barr (Grant Barr, Kerr Sands, George McConnell and Thomas Halder) topped Group A with three wins and a tie.

They were joined in qualifying for the semi finals by Team Brydone (Robin Brydone, Callum Kinnear, Callum Greenwood, Craig Waddell), who had a record of won three, lost one.

The qualifiers from Group B were Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, James Baird, Gavin Barr, Euan Kyle, David Baird), on three wins from three, and Team Carson (Luke Carson, George Ballantyne, James Craig, Mark Taylor), on two wins and one loss.

The women’s group was headed up by Team Aitken (Karina Aitken, Amy MacDonald, Sophie Sinclair, Laura Barr), who won four and drew one of their round robin games, followed by Team Murray (Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Mili Smith – and, with Katie Murray being at the World Mixed Curling Championship in Switzerland, Mairi MacDonald), on four wins and one loss.

Also making the last four were Team Bryce (this weekend being skipped by Lauren Morgan, with Leeanne McKenzie, Jenni Cannon, Becca Baird), on won three and lost two, and Team Young (Lesley Young, Beth Dandie, Kathryn Spain, Jane Barr), who won two, lost two and drew one.

The men’s semi finals pitted Team Barr against Team Carson, and it was Carson who triumphed, scoring five in end five on their way to a 9-3 victory.

The other semi was between Teams Brydone and Whyte, and again the Group B side came out on top, but it was much closer.

Despite a score of four by Whyte in end seven, the game was level at 5-5 after eight – in the extra end, Whyte took one to win the match 6-5.

The women’s semi finals saw wins for Team Aitken over Team Young (7-6, largely thanks to steals in ends five, six and seven) and Team Bryce against Team Murray (10-9, with a stolen point in an extra end).

Team Whyte had only just beaten Team Carson (8-7) in the group stage, but they had a firm grip on their encounter in the men’s final after four ends, leading 4-1.

That was too big a gap to be bridged, and it was Whyte who claimed the tournament win with a result of 6-4.

The women’s final, by contrast, went to an extra end as Teams Aitken and Bryce could not be separated at 6-6 after eight.

Team Aitken needed to steal for victory and they did just that, coming through 7-6.

Team Barr won the men’s third place match 6-4, and Team Murray claimed the women’s 3/4 by a score of 5-4.

The next Under-21 Slam (four events designed as a performance pathway for junior curlers, with tournament experience and competing for prize money) is the Kinross Junior Classic on October 2-4.

Team Fleming 2015-16 season preview

Team Fleming: Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown
Team Fleming: Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown

Team Fleming have once again been chosen as one of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s podium potential funded teams for the season.

Joined by Lorna Vevers last season, the rink – skipped by Hannah Fleming and also consisting of Alice Spence and Abi Brown – were Team Muirhead’s closest challengers at the 2015 Scottish Championship, losing out in a close-fought final.

Here, Hannah Fleming looks forward to an exciting season with plenty of opportunities to push on and make further progress on the home and international stage.

Q: How have you prepared for the season and how has training gone?
A: Summer training has gone really well – we have had individual analysis and development on our technique and all of us are seeing huge benefits in the changes we’ve made. Also we’ve been working off ice in the gym with our strength and conditioning programmes.

Q: What competitions do you have lined up?
A: We have a fairly busy season ahead, having started in Oakville, Canada. We also head to Stockholm, Basel, Bern and back to Canada, as well as competitions at home.

Q: What are your ambitions for the season?
A: Our main goals this season are to qualify for the European and World championships and gain enough points on the World Curling Tour to qualify for Grand Slam events.

Team Fleming’s next scheduled competition is the Stockholm Ladies Cup, September 25-27, where they will compete alongside Teams Homan, Jones, Pätz, Sidorova and fellow Scottish rinks Gray and Muirhead.