#scc2016 day six: Final reckoning

Anna Sloan 2
Anna Sloan of Team Muirhead, the defending champions reaching another women’s final (photo: Tom Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

Teams Brewster and Muirhead kept up their impressive form by storming into tomorrow’s men’s and women’s finals at the Scottish Curling Championships, later joined by Teams Murdoch and Gray.

Brewster defeated Team Bryce in the men’s 1v2 game, while Muirhead eased past Team Fleming in the 1v2 on the women’s side.

Then, in the evening’s semi-finals, Murdoch outplayed Bryce to set up a big match-up with Brewster, while Gray defeated Fleming after an extra end to make the women’s final.

***

There were no great shocks in the lunchtime page playoffs, as Teams Muirhead, Brewster and Murdoch came out winners.

Muirhead played Team Fleming in the women’s 1v2 game – they had beaten Fleming 8-2 in the round robin stage, and won this game just as convincingly.

The defending champions got off to the best possible start with a three in end one, before stealing two in end four.

Fleming scored two in end five to give themselves hope, but Muirhead stole two in end seven and one in end eight for a 9-2 final score.

Afterwards, Eve Muirhead said: “We came out the blocks sharp and the three [in end one] gave us a bit of a jump.

“It was a long time to defend a lead but we had composure and good shot-making, making our peels when we had to.

“We’ll maybe watch some of the semi-finals tonight, but for us now it’s about keeping our composure, chilling out and getting ready for our next game.”

Team Brewster had won their last six games in the men’s round robin, and kept their run going by beating Team Bryce 7-3 in the men’s 1v2 to make it into the final.

G Muirhead
Glen Muirhead throws for Team Brewster (photo: Tom Brydone)

Brewster scored two in end one, and although Bryce hit back with two in end three, the response was immediate: another two in end four, and a 4-2 lead.

The teams exchanged ones in ends five and six, before a steal of two in end nine finished the job for Brewster, 7-3 winners.

Skip Tom Brewster said: “We’re quite confident, technically we’re throwing really well and drawing well.

“Bryce are a good team but we have a lot more experience and that maybe showed in the game – we felt in control from the two in the first end, and were never overly troubled.”

In the men’s 3v4 game, Team Murdoch overcame Team Mouat 8-3, setting up a semi-final with Bryce and knocking Mouat out of the competition.

The first five ends were very tight, Murdoch leading 2-1, but a steal of two in end six made that 4-1.

Mouat struck back with two in end seven, but Murdoch scored three in end eight and stole one in end nine to bring matters to a close.

***

Teams Bryce and Fleming, beaten in the 1v2 games, had second chances to make the men’s and women’s finals respectively – playing semi-finals in the evening.

But neither could take those chances, with Bryce getting off to the worst possible start against a team of Murdoch’s experience, giving up a steal of three in end one.

From there Murdoch remained in charge, exchanging ones and stealing two in end five on their way to a 7-2 win – since their loss in the last game of the round robin, they have really had the bit between their teeth, and it should be a cracking final against Brewster.

In the women’s semi, a tight opening half of the game was broken by a two for Fleming in end six that saw them go 4-2 up.

Team Gray, however, fought back with a two in end eight and a steal of two in end nine – and it took a superb hit for two from Hannah Fleming in end 10 to take the game to an extra end.

There, Gray’s rink kept it clean and, after Fleming’s last stone picked, Gray made an open draw to win 7-6.

Afterwards, Lauren Gray said: “We’ve got a record between us [Teams Fleming and Gray] – we beat them, they beat us. So we knew we had a chance; in practice we just focused on playing good shots.

“Eve’s rink has so much experience; this is our second year together. We can take confidence from our semi-tight game in the round robin.

“If we can keep it close down ends eight, nine, 10… curling’s curling and anything can happen.”

***

Tomorrow is finals day. Muirhead play Gray in the women’s final from 11am.

Then, from 4pm, Brewster play Murdoch in the men’s final.

Both finals have sold out (information for ticket holders here), and there will not be live streaming, so if you’re not going to be in Perth, you can follow both finals live, shot-by-shot on CurlingGeek.

And once again there will be updates throughout the day on the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.

#scc2016 day four: Playoff pandemonium

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It was a Hardie day and night for Grant Hardie and co, but they remain in playoff contention (photo: Tom Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

The Scottish Curling Championships head into their fifth day with only Team Brewster certain of a playoff place in the men’s section, and only Team Muirhead secure in the women’s.

Brewster won twice more, including against Team Murdoch, to nail down their spot in the final four, while two Wednesday wins for Team Smith means there are five teams in contention for the three spots below Brewster.

Muirhead remain unbeaten, and while Team Gray also look good for a playoff spot, they cannot yet be certain, with five teams below them all still harbouring hopes of making the knock-outs, swinging on results across the final draw.

***

I’ve seen it before from Team Muirhead, but not quite like this.

They found themselves 6-1 down after four ends to Team G Aitken in the fifth women’s draw, having conceded three in the first end and lost steals in ends three and four.

But they hauled themselves back into the match with two in end five and a steal in end nine – yet still needed to steal two in end 10 to force an extra.

They did that – and more – as Aitken’s last crashed on a guard to give up three, and the win 8-7.

Eve Muirhead said afterwards: “Gina started very well and deserved to get the jump on us. But we have experience as a team and were never out of the game.

“We were unlucky not to steal two in end nine, and played a perfect last end.

“We’re playing well, not firing on all cylinders, but we want to save our best for later in the week.”

Eve Muirhead 2
Eve Muirhead’s rink are still unbeaten – just (photo: Tom Brydone)

There was an equally dramatic game between Teams Fleming and Jackson, as Fleming moved into a 5-1 lead by end five but gave up a steal of three in end seven as Jackson came back to lead 7-6 after nine.

Fleming could only score one in end 10; Jackson hit and rolled out to accidentally blank the extra end, but scored her one in the extra extra end to win 8-7.

Jackson joined Team Gray on W3 L2, after Gray surprisingly lost 10-4 to Team Young, who scored two in end one and threes in ends six and eight.

Team Murray (with Kirsty Barr subbing in for Katie Murray, away for academic commitments, and Rebecca Morrison at skip) stole two in end eight and scored another two in end 10 to beat Team K Aitken 9-6.

***

Men’s draw seven saw Team Brewster move clear at the top of the standings on six wins, scoring two in end one, stealing two in end two and scoring three in end six for a strangely straightforward 8-2 victory over Team Murdoch.

Murdoch was joined on five wins and two losses by Teams Bryce (who stole their way to a 4-0 lead and added three in end seven and two in end eight to beat Team Brydone 9-3) and Mouat – who scored twos in ends one and two, three in end three, two in end five and one in end six to ease past Combe 10-1.

Also on W5 L2 were Team Hardie, who came up against a resurgent Team MacDonald, the 2015 champions gaining a 5-3 lead, losing it, but forcing in end 10 – Ewan MacDonald making the hit for two with his last for an 8-6 extra end win.

Finally, Team Smith clung onto their playoff hopes, moving to W4 L3 by beating Team Macleod 5-1, crucially stealing three in end five.

Skip Kyle Smith said: “We’ve made fewer mistakes and made more shots [the last two games] after struggling before.

“It’s all about winning our last two games – playing like we know we can play.”

***

Compared to the drama of the morning, the sixth women’s draw was rather more routine.

Certainly that was the case for Muirhead, who moved to six wins from six by beating K Aitken 11-2, with a steal of one in end two, a two with hammer in end four, a four in end six and a steal of three in end seven to finish the job.

Gray picked up their fourth win by overcoming Jackson 8-3. The match was tight up to 3-3 at end six, after which Gray took steals of one in end seven, one in end eight and three in end nine.

That kept them ahead of the pack on W3 L3, which includes Jackson – and Fleming, who defeated Young 10-4 courtesy of two in end five, three in end seven and four in end nine.

Also on W3 L3 are Murray, who despite being without their usual skip, won their second game of the day against G Aitken, stealing one in end three, scoring two in end six and taking their one with hammer in end 10 to win 6-5.

***

Brewster remained top of the pile after reeling off their sixth successive win in the eighth men’s draw, beating Brydone 8-3 with two in end two and four in end four.

Murdoch moved to six wins by beating Combe 9-2 thanks to twos in ends one, three and five, and three in end seven.

Mouat joined Murdoch on W6 L2 – but only just: they led Hardie 4-1 after five ends but skip Bruce Mouat had to make a double takeout to prevent a killer three in end 10.

Hardie scored two, forcing an extra end, where Mouat claimed one to win 7-6… a second extra end loss of the day for Hardie.

Hardie now sit W5 L3, as do Bryce and Smith after Smith won their head-to-head clash. A nightmare eighth end for Bryce saw Smith steal three, winning the game 6-3.

Team MacDonald cannot make the playoffs but did pick up their third win, beating Macleod. MacDonald went 4-1 up, lost their lead, but then scored four in end seven to draw handshakes.

***

Tomorrow: the decisive final draws. At 8am the seventh and last women’s draw features G Aitken v K Aitken, Fleming v Gray, Jackson v Young and Muirhead v Murray.

Four wins should be enough for a tiebreaker spot at least, but three wins could also be enough for G Aitken and Young if other results go their way.

The ninth and final men’s draw is at (high) noon. The matches there are Brewster v Macleod, Bryce v Combe, Brydone v MacDonald, Hardie v Murdoch and Mouat v Smith.

Mouat and Murdoch need wins to avoid being dragged into tiebreaker(s). Should they both win and Bryce beat Combe, they will be the top four. But should one/both of Hardie and Smith win, then things get really interesting…

Tiebreaker(s) – I can’t see there not being any at all – are scheduled for 6.30pm.

Get updates on the final day of round-robin action on the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.

There will be CurlingGeek shot-by-shot coverage throughout the day, and as always you can get full linescores, team line-ups etc on the event page here.

#scc2016 day two: Muirhead and Murdoch lead the way

Team Brewster
Team Brewster take a time out; coach Mike Harris advises (photo: Tom Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

The first women’s games at the Scottish Curling Championships took place, with Team Muirhead winning twice.

Teams Gray and Jackson also won both of their matches, but the biggest test of their credentials comes tomorrow – both play Muirhead.

In the men’s competition, Team Murdoch continue to lead the way on four wins, but there are four teams – Brewster, Bryce, Hardie and Mouat – sitting on W3 L1.

***

The first women’s draw saw a few nervous moments for Team Muirhead as they let a 3-0 lead slip, Team Young stealing in ends four and five to lead 4-3.

But a steal for Muirhead in end seven tied it up at 5-5 and they scored three in end nine, before running Young out of stones to win 8-5.

Last year’s runners-up Team Fleming scored three in end one and four in end four to race into a 7-1 lead against Team K Aitken.

A steal of two in end seven effectively killed the game off, Aitken shaking hands after eight ends at 10-5.

Scottish Junior champions Team Jackson also scored 10, scoring three in end two then reeling off the steals – one in end three, four in end four, one in end five and one in end six as they beat Team G Aitken 10-2 in seven.

Team Gray, meanwhile, faced Team Murray, this season’s Asham U21 Slam winners. Gray scored three in end one but found themselves dragged back to 4-4 after five.

But from there it was Gray who kicked on, stealing two in end seven and one in end eight on their way to winning 8-5.

Skip Lauren Gray said: “The main thing is getting to grips with the ice and getting wins on the board.

“It’s great to have more teams this year, and those that have come up are very good junior teams.”

***

The third men’s draw saw both Team Bryce and Team Murdoch keep up their winning starts.

Bryce stole ones in ends four and seven in a game against Team Macleod that saw no more than one scored in any end, running out victors 5-2.

Murdoch, meanwhile, won the rematch of the 2015 championships final, beating Team MacDonald 7-3 courtesy of threes in ends one and eight – and handed MacDonald their third consecutive defeat.

Brewster & Smith
Brewster v Smith (photo: Tom Brydone)

Team Smith, however, couldn’t take their third win – beaten 6-3 by Team Brewster in a tight game that was blown open by a four for Brewster in end eight.

Tom Brewster said afterwards: “We just have to make sure we’re in the playoffs at the end of the week – that’s what it’s all about.

“We’ll probably lose some more, and win some more, so we just need to win more than we lose.”

In the other games, Team Mouat gained their second win by beating Team Brydone 7-2 courtesy of twos in ends three, four and six, while Team Hardie also picked up win number two after defeating Combe 10-4 with threes in ends one and two and two in end five.

***

In the second women’s draw, Muirhead were on fire against Fleming, the two teams who contested last year’s final.

They scored two in end two, stole one in end three, scored a huge four in end five and stole another one in end six to win 8-2.

Afterwards Eve Muirhead said: “We played OK today – in the second game we were right on with our line and weight.

“The ice is great – we just need to adapt to the speed, curl and temperature faster than our opponents this week.”

Joining Muirhead on two wins were Gray – who finished strongly with a five in end eight and steal of two in nine to beat G Aitken 8-4 – and Jackson.

Jackson roared into an 8-2 lead in end four only to see it cut to 8-7 by end seven… then scoring four in end eight to kill off a topsy-turvy encounter.

Skip Sophie Jackson said: “We had to pick it up after a couple of slack ends and come back. We used our coping strategies and stuck together.

“I’m pleased with the team performances, building on our success from Juniors.”

In the fourth match, K Aitken and Young went to an extra end tied at 7-7 – Young used hammer to win the game, hitting and sticking to take the game 8-7.

***

The fourth men’s draw saw Murdoch continue their relentless start to the competition, their steal of two in end seven proving the difference in an otherwise tight match with Smith – won 6-4.

But there are now four teams on W3 L1 records – Brewster took their third win and handed Bryce their first loss with a four in end three and three in end six as they took it 8-3.

Also on three wins are Mouat, who meted out another defeat to MacDonald, 10-6, courtesy of twos in ends two, four and five and three in end eight.

And Hardie are quietly going about their business, notching a third victory with three in end three and two in eight en route to beating Macleod 7-3.

In the fifth match of the night, Brydone picked up their first win of the competition, letting slip a 5-2 lead but scoring one in end 10 to see off Combe 6-5.

***

Tomorrow sees four more draws – the women at 8am (inc. Jackson v Muirhead), men at noon (inc. Brewster v Mouat), women at 4pm (inc. Gray v Muirhead) and men at 8pm (inc. Bryce v Mouat).

If you’re not in Perth, you can follow the action via the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter pages, and there will be another liveblog like this one.

There will be more games covered shot-by-shot on CurlingGeek, and you can find linescores and other competition information on the RCCC page here.

 

#scc2016 day one: Team Murdoch leave it late

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Team Murdoch start with two wins from two. Photo: Royal Caledonian Curling Club

It went to an extra end as the clock ticked towards midnight, but Team Murdoch eventually saw off Team Mouat to sit on two wins at the end of day one of the Scottish Curling Championships.

Teams Bryce and Smith also won their opening two games, but it was a tough start for Team MacDonald in their title defence, losing twice.

There were just the two draws on the first day of #scc2016, both men’s, but still the viewing area at the Dewars Centre attracted a decent crowd.

The opening draw saw a clash between reigning Scottish champions Team MacDonald and Scotland’s representatives at the 2015 European Championships, Team Smith.

It was Smith who made the better start, stealing one in end one and forcing one from MacDonald in end two.

A draw for two and a lead of 3-1 followed, but they were let off the hook in end four when MacDonald’s draw for two was light and only narrowed the gap by one.

MacDonald’s last stone was light again in end five, allowing Smith to draw in for another two, and although MacDonald scored twos in ends six and nine, Smith took two of their own in end seven and stole one in eight on their way to winning 8-7.

Team Murdoch picked up a steal of one in end two versus Team Brydone, then blew it open with a steal of four in the next end.

Brydone scored two in end seven but two for Murdoch in eight saw the game conceded with Murdoch 8-3 up.

Team Combe hit and stuck instead of blanking end one against Brewster, and Brewster scored three in end three for a lead which they never relinquished.

They scored two in end six, stole one in end seven and ran Combe out of stones in 10 to win 7-4.

Team Mouat scored two in end two versus Team Macleod, then stole a single in end three, two in end four and two in end five to lead 7-0.

Although Macleod got two back in end six, the game was essentially gone and they shook hands in end eight – victory going to Mouat 8-3.

The tightest game of the opening draw was between Teams Bryce and Hardie. Bryce scored three in end two to lead 3-1, but Hardie levelled at 4-4 after five.

Hardie then stole one in end six, before Bryce scored one in end seven and stole one in end eight to tip the balance back their way.

After forcing Hardie to one in end nine, Bryce scored the one they needed in end 10 for a 7-6 triumph.

***

The second draw of the day brought together two form teams: Mouat and Murdoch.

Their match did not disappoint either, as the sides traded ones up to end four, then twos to end eight – every time Murdoch got their noses in front, Mouat levelled immediately.

Ones in ends nine and 10 meant an extra end was needed, and Mouat piled on the pressure, only for skip David Murdoch to execute a tough double takeout to win.

Afterwards, he said: “Absolutely delighted [to start with two wins]. It’s a tough field, and everyone’s still figuring out the ice.

“It wasn’t the best extra end we’ve ever played but I just needed the guys to give me a final shot. Bruce [Mouat] played a great last shot and I had to make a downweight double… it was nice to make that at the end.

“Ahead of day two we need to switch off, get some sleep and chill out. It’s a tough week, the games come thick and fast like the Worlds or Europeans, but there’s a good flow to it.”

If that game was topsy-turvy then that was nothing on Bryce v MacDonald. Bryce led 4-0 after four ends, but MacDonald scored five in end five and four in end seven to lead 9-5.

Yet Bryce scored two in end eight, stole three in end nine and forced MacDonald to one in end 10 – allowing them to win it in the extra end, 11-10.

Smith’s second win came against Brydone, scoring two in end three and stealing two in end eight en route to a 7-4 victory.

Brewster, by contrast, came unstuck against Hardie, trading twos and then ones through to end 10, where Hardie used hammer to score one and win the game 5-4.

And Macleod secured victory against Combe, scoring two in end five, three in end seven and two in end nine to prompt handshakes at 8-3.

***

The first women’s draw is from 8am tomorrow, with Team Muirhead kicking off against Team Young, Team Fleming facing Team K Aitken, Team Gray playing Team Murray and Team Jackson versus Team G Aitken.

That is followed by the third men’s draw at noon, the second women’s draw at 4pm and fourth men’s draw at 8pm.

Keep an eye on the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter for updates throughout the day, as well as linescores and standings on the RCCC’s competition page here.

Scottish Curling Championships 2016: Preview

Teams MacDonald and Muirhead look to retain their respective men’s and women’s titles at the Scottish Curling Championships 2016, in Perth next week.

The event (sponsored by Go Coco) takes place in Perth’s Dewars Centre on February 14-20, and involves 10 men’s and eight women’s teams.

At stake: the Scottish titles, and to right to represent Scotland in Basel, Switzerland, from April 2-10 (for the men) and in Swift Current, Canada, from March 19-27 (for the women).

Men’s championship

The teams fighting it out for the men’s title are those of Tom Brewster, Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Moray Combe, Grant Hardie, Ewan MacDonald, Scott Macleod, Bruce Mouat, David Murdoch and Kyle Smith.

The holders, MacDonald, have entered fewer events than many of their rivals – their highlights being runners-up at the Braehead Open in September, semi-finalists at the Edinburgh International in November and winner of the Aberdeen City Open just last weekend, although of the teams they’ll face in Perth, only Macleod were in Aberdeen.

Like last year, where they beat Murdoch in the final, MacDonald go into this as underdogs, bizarre given they’re going for three in a row.

So who are the favourites? Going on form, it can only be Team Murdoch. They shook off a slow start to the season, reaching the GSOC Canadian Open quarter-finals in December and, later that month, winning the Karuizawa International.

Last month, they made the last four at the Perth Masters and then won the German Masters in Hamburg. Simply put, they’re the hottest Scots form-wise.

But Murdoch won’t have it easy, not least from Tom Brewster and Kyle Smith’s rinks. Brewster’s season has been somewhat up and down, but they have been runners-up at the Baden Masters (August) and Dumfries’ Lely Challenge (December), as well as winning the men’s title at the Curling Night in America event, also in December.

Smith, meanwhile, won the European playdowns to represent Scotland in Esbjerg – they had a shaky start in the playdowns, and at the Europeans themselves they fell to a W1 L4 record before winning four straight games to force a tiebreaker with Team Edin… the Swedes squeezed through that match and went on to win the title.

So just as it would be silly to dismiss MacDonald’s challenge, don’t rule out Smith – even if (or perhaps especially if) they start with a few losses. Once they’ve got momentum, they’re hard to stop.

Those teams aside, it’s a field inexperienced at the top level. Team Hardie won the first two Scottish Curling Tour events of the season, in Braehead and Dumfries, while Teams Bryce and Brydone have had success in the Asham Under-21 Slams and European Junior Curling Tour events.

But if you’re looking for a dark horse, how about Team Mouat? They started winning events in November and haven’t really stopped.

Having made the last four at the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau, beating Teams Michel and Epping (twice!) and only going out to Team Gushue, they won the OVCA Junior Superspiel in Ottawa, then the Forfar Open on the Scottish Curling Tour and Lely Challenge on the Champions Curling Tour.

It’s a season which has also seen skip Bruce Mouat win the Scottish Mixed Doubles with Gina Aitken, the team make the Perth Masters quarters before succumbing to Team Ulsrud, and just a couple of weekends ago they won the Scottish Junior Championships.

The variety of those events, at both junior and men’s levels, shows the Mouat rink can stand toe-to-toe with the big boys. So a serious challenge from them in Perth would come as no surprise.

Verdict: Murdoch’s rink have the experience and pedigree – they also have the form. But it’s a competitive field, with both established teams and hungry youngsters. Mouat in particular are capable of making the playoffs like last year… maybe even the final.

Women’s championship

Eve Muirhead’s defending champions face the rinks of Gina Aitken, Karina Aitken, Hannah Fleming, Lauren Gray, Sophie Jackson, Katie Murray and Lesley Young.

The Muirhead rink are big, big favourites. So consistent have they been over the last five years it’s now almost impossible to think of another women’s team representing Scotland at a major championship.

As if to underline the gap, while Muirhead were in Las Vegas as part of Team World at the Continental Cup, the six Scottish teams competing in the Glynhill Ladies International all missed out on the playoffs.

It’s been a satisfactory few months for Eve’s ladies. Coach Dave Hay told me in Esbjerg that he felt they were playing considerably better than at this stage last season. And many of their defeats – in the Stockholm Ladies Cup final, GSOC Canadian Open semi-finals and European Championships final, for example – have come against some of the most in-form teams in women’s curling: Homan, Jones and Sidorova.

But even if you remove form, focus and fitness from the equation… well, I have two words for you: Team Hanna.

Team Homan were the best rink in the world between September and December, but won’t be at their national championships after Hanna beat them in the Ontario Scotties final – shocks happen, and especially when it comes down to one game, the ‘big name’ doesn’t always win.

So who are the teams looking to shock Muirhead? Teams Fleming, runners-up last year, and Gray again look likeliest to push them closest.

Fleming made the semi-finals of the Medicine Hat Charity Classic in November, but otherwise the quarter-finals have been their limit – although their run to the last eight of the Bernese Ladies Cup in January was an impressive one.

Gray took a few months to really get going this season but finished runners-up to Muirhead in the European playdowns in October, won the Lely Challenge in Dumfries in December, and this last weekend finished third at the Aberdeen City Open.

Dark horses? The most impressive junior teams this season have been those of Jackson and Murray.

Murray were overall Asham Under-21 Slam winners after claiming titles in Kinross, Inverness and Lockerbie, and came fourth at the EJCT event in Thun in November, while last month they were runners-up at the Scottish Junior Championships…

…To Jackson, who also won the Braehead Junior International in September, were semi-finalists at the Kinross U21 Slam and Forfar Open, and gained international experience at the OVCA Junior Superspiel in November – more of that to come at the World Junior Championships next month of course.

Verdict: Muirhead are expected to do the business once again, although the no-second-chances final increases the chance of an upset. Gray look best placed to profit from a slip-up, while it’ll be interesting to see how Jackson and Murray manage the step up from their success at junior level.

Event coverage

The championships begin with the first men’s draw at 1pm on Sunday, February 14. For the full draw, team line-ups and (when the event has started) linescores, see the Royal Caledonian Curling Club competition page here.

The Roaring Game Blog will be in Perth throughout the week, so watch this space – and my Facebook and Twitter – for match updates, athlete reaction and more.

And there are also plans in the works for some games to be covered shot-by-shot on CurlingGeek – more on that to come.

Team Murdoch conquer German Masters

Team Murdoch continued their resurgence in form by winning the German Masters in Hamburg, while the last two men’s spots were decided for the Scottish Championships, and in Canada there were shocks in the provincial Scotties.

Teams Brewster, Murdoch and Smith represented Scotland in Hamburg in a strong field that included Team Edin of Sweden and Teams De Cruz and Michel of Switzerland.

There were, however, early exits for Brewster and Smith in the pool stage of the competition.

In Group F, Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson and Hammy McMillan were 9-2 winners over Jiri Snitil’s Czech rink, but then lost 5-4 to Gronbech of Denmark and 6-5 to Baumann of Germany after an extra end.

Smith’s rink (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) also won their first match, 5-3 against Gribi of Switzerland, but were then beaten 5-2 by the Finnish national team Kauste and 6-5 by Michel, which meant elimination from Group B.

No such problems for Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) in Group D, who won their first two games – 6-1 against Mjoen of Norway and 6-4 over Swedish rink Eskilsson.

They were beaten 6-3 by Soo Hyuk Kim’s Korean rink, the current Pacific-Asia champions, in their final pool match, but by then they knew they had made it out of the group – but not yet to the quarter-finals.

With the German Masters having six pools, it necessitated two playoff rounds before the quarter-finals – with Murdoch first facing Michel, and losing 8-6 after an extra end.

But they had a second chance and took it, beating Stjerne of Denmark 5-3 to reach the last eight.

There they saw off Hoiberg of Norway 4-3, which sealed their place in the semi-finals on Sunday morning.

Michel were again their opponents, but this time the Scots came out on top – a two in end four, followed by steals in ends five and six, proving pivotal in their 6-5 win.

The final was another rematch – against Kim, who had beaten European champions Edin 6-1 in the other semi-final.

The Scots scored two in end one and led 3-1 after four ends, but Kim scored two in end five and stole one in end seven to lead 4-3 into the eighth.

Skip Murdoch needed to make a hit to score two to win, and he was spot on, meaning a final score of 5-4 and the team’s second German Masters title, having also triumphed in Hamburg in 2013.

Their form has been excellent since the last few weeks of 2015, and is a real signal of intent ahead of the Scottish Championships next month, as David Murdoch’s reaction to the win demonstrated.

“Obviously we are delighted with another win on the tour with a strong field,” he said.

“Our form recently had been exemplary and again this weekend we showed great determination to continue this trend.

“With the Scottish Championship a few weeks away we feel we have great confidence in our play and we hope we carry this forward and achieve our goals for the rest of the season.”

***

Speaking of the Scottish Championships, Braehead was the setting as five teams competed for the final two men’s places.

And it was Teams Brydone and Combe who saw off McCall, Shaw and Taylor to qualify for Perth next month.

Brydone (Robin Brydone, Ross McCleary, Calum Greenwood, Craig Waddell, Gavin Barr) won their matches against Combe (7-5), McCall (7-3) and Taylor (5-4) to wrap up their spot.

Also successful were the Combe rink (Moray Combe, Sandy Christie, Neil Sands, Gary Rutherford), who beat Taylor (9-4), Shaw (9-3) and McCall (8-2).

***

Qualifiers were also taking place in Canada – this time for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (their national women’s championship).

With only last year’s winner, Team Jones, automatically qualified, each rink must get out of their home province to reach the big event.

And with 10 of the 14 Scotties spots decided, there have already been some big shocks – the biggest coming in Ontario.

Team Homan were on fire in the first half of 2015-16, winning titles and cash wherever they went, so were huge favourites to win their province.

But curling’s innate unpredictability means that on any given day, any team can beat any other. Which is just what happened.

Team Hanna defied the odds to steal two in end seven and three in end eight as they beat Homan 10-8 to represent their province in Grande Prairie, Alberta, next month.

And another member of Canadian women’s curling’s ‘top three’ over the last few seasons, Team Sweeting, were beaten by Team Carey in the Alberta final.

Sweeting controlled the first half of the game but Carey scored threes in ends seven and nine to win it 8-5.

Those defeats for Homan and Sweeting show that when a qualifying event comes down to just one game, anything can happen.

In Scottish women’s curling, Team Muirhead may have ruled the roost for the last few seasons, but the slightest loss of focus, or a couple of shots going against them… who knows?

Across the other Canadian provinces, Team Thompson qualified from British Columbia, Team Einarson beat McDonald to represent Manitoba, Team McCarville beat Fleury to the Northern Ontario spot, Team Brothers took the Nova Scotia title, Team Birt made it from Prince Edward Island, Team Larouche qualified from Quebec and Team Baldwin will represent Yukon.

That just leaves New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan to decide their champions.

***

Finally, just a wee reminder it’s Burn’s Night tonight…