Time to take a break

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GOLD: European champions Team Mouat. Pic: Richard Gray/WCF

Curlers no longer retire; they ‘step back from competitive curling’.

So in the manner of that tradition, it’s time for me to ‘step back’ from curling blogging.

Work and personal commitments mean that I no longer have the time to dedicate a weekly blog and the social media that comes with it.

What a week to go out on though, eh?

Team Mouat have become European champions in their first European Championships – beating Team Edin of Sweden 9-5 in the final.

This is a remarkable achievement by Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan – putting Scotland right at the heart of the elite men’s picture once again.

Team Muirhead were edged out of the play-off places in the women’s competition, as defeats to the Czech Republic and Latvia proved costly, ahead of an extra-end loss to eventual silver medallists Switzerland.

But with a new team line-up for this season, and their skip just back from surgery, I’m sure this is just the start for them.

There was success for another Team Muirhead, though, as Glen Muirhead (plus Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead and Cammy Smith) beat fellow Scots Team Paterson 5-4 (after an extra end) in the final of the Ashley HomeStore Classic in Penticton, Canada, for their first title as a new rink.

It was reporting on Kyle Smith and Hannah Fleming’s World University Games rinks which got me hooked on curling, before I went to watch the Scottish Championships in 2014.

The blog followed, and I am grateful to all the curlers who gave up their time to speak to me, and everyone else who helped along the way.

Since I started this blog, curling as a sport has really embraced new technology – be it social media, YouTube streaming or video features – as a way to communicate with fans and attract new ones to watch its events on TV or live in arenas.

Scottish Curling/British Curling and the World Curling Federation are doing a great job of promoting the sport, whether that’s to potential fans or even future European Championship winners.

And with podcasts regularly popping up – 2 Girls and a Game, From The Hack and Rocks Across the Pond to name but three – coverage of the game is getting better all the time.

I will always remain a fan of the roaring game, and who knows what the future may bring?

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Curling season preview 2018/19

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CONTINUITY: Team Mouat – one of few constants in Scottish Curling for this season, so it would seem! Pic: British Curling

Curling’s back! Not that it’s been a quiet summer…

In terms of Scottish teams, Team Mouat – so successful last season – are one of few constants.

There are now two Team Muirheads – though Eve Muirhead will not be skipping her rink at the start of the season, as she recovers from surgery, while Anna Sloan has stepped back from competitive curling… and Vicki Adams is now Vicki Chalmers after getting married.

Jennifer Dodds and Vicky Wright have moved over from what was Team Fleming, to form a five-strong rink for this season.

And the other Team Muirhead? Skipped by Glen Muirhead alongside his brother Thomas, and joined by another two brothers – Kyle and Cammy Smith.

Teams Jackson and Paterson round out the British Curling performance (i.e. funded) teams, with three mixed doubles pairings also on the performance programme.

They are Gina Aitken and Scott Andrews (Bruce Mouat focusing on the four-person game for now), Jayne Stirling and Fraser Kingan, and – interestingly enough – an English pair, siblings Anna and Ben Fowler.

There’s a new event to look forward to this season – the Curling World Cup, made up of three legs and a grand final, to go alongside the usual World Curling Federation, World Curling Tour, Scottish Curling Tour and Grand Slam of Curling events.

You can see a calendar of the major events this season – both in Scotland and overseas – here.

Beyond our shores, the game as a whole has changed too, with the WCF implementing the five-rock rule, designed to keep more stones in play.

It could be something of a transitional season for curling, and many of the Scottish teams – but it’s bound to be an exciting one.

Already we’ve had the Baden Masters in Basel – which saw Team Mouat scrape into the playoffs with a W2 L2 record, only to lose 6-3 to eventual champions Team Ulsrud (#teampants continue!) in the quarter-finals.

Further afield, Jayne Stirling and Fraser Kingan did brilliantly in their first mixed doubles event of the season, at the Winter Games in New Zealand.

They won five out of six matches in the group stage, then beat New Zealand and Norway to make the final against Canada.

Olympic champions Jennifer Jones and Brett Laing proved too strong, winning 9-5, but winning silver medals is a very, very encouraging way to start the season.

Three more Scottish teams – Jackson, Paterson and Whyte – are over in Canada for the Oakville Fall Classic, which is ongoing; follow the latest scores here.

Strong finish to Team Fleming’s Worlds debut

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GOOD SHOW: Team Fleming, who represented Scotland at the World Women’s Curling Championship. Pic: British Curling/Graeme Hart

Wins over both Olympic finalists gave Team Fleming a ninth-place finish on their World Women’s Curling Championship debut, just one win off being in playoff contention.

They ended up with a W5 L7 record in North Bay, and given that they lost five games before picking up their first victory, it was a case of what might have been for the Scottish rink.

We’re used to seeing Team Muirhead representing Scotland at these events, but Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright, Sophie Jackson (alternate)) won their place fair and square, by becoming Scottish champions and then beating Muirhead in the World Championship Playoff event in Perth.

Their lack of experience on the biggest stage seemed to take its toll in the opening few draws, however, as they lost to Russia, 8-4, and then Italy – 7-6, after taking a 6-4 lead after eight ends but then giving up steals in the 10th and extra ends.

Further defeats to the USA (8-6), the Czech Republic (11-4) and Switzerland (10-2) followed, as the Scots fell into a tailspin.

But they managed to pick up that crucial first win by beating Germany 8-5 (stealing three in end five), and although they then lost to Canada, 8-6, they did well to take the table-topping hosts right through to the 10th end.

Scotland then saw off Japan 10-7 and China 8-7 (another steal of three in the fifth end), before an 8-7 loss to Denmark halted their momentum and set up their tricky final games against Sweden and Korea – the same teams who had claimed gold and silver at Pyeongchang 2018.

Fleming stole three in end two and then scored twos in ends five and 10 to beat the Swedes 8-5, and followed that with a 6-5 victory over Korea after an extra end.

So that gave them ninth place out of 13 teams, and given that three teams finished on W6 L6 records (and two made the playoffs), they really weren’t far off at all.

Their finish to the round robin showed that they can compete with the best, and having made their debut at the top table, they can take that experience into future international events.

Ultimately gold went to Canada (Team Jones), who beat Sweden (Hasselborg) 7-6 after an extra end in the final, while Russia (Moiseeva) took bronze ahead of the USA.

***

This week it’s the turn of the World Men’s Curling Championship to take centre stage, with Team Mouat representing Scotland in Las Vegas.

They warmed up for the event, where they look to challenge favourites Canada (Gushue) and Sweden (Edin) for gold, with victory at the Aberdeen International Curling Championship last week.

Group stage wins over Teams Pfister (6-4), Baumann (4-3), Bryce (7-4) and Van Dorp (5-3) were followed by a 5-2 loss to Muirhead, but they picked it up again in the knockout stages.

They knocked out fellow Scots Team Drummond in the quarter-finals, 7-4, and then showed they really have the sign over Team Smith this season by beating them 9-6 in the semis.

Team Schwaller of Switzerland were their opponents in the final, and twos in the first, third and seventh ends gave Mouat a 7-4 victory.

They go to Las Vegas with a really good shot of bringing back a medal… so long as they can carry the form they’ve shown throughout this season when it matters most.

***

We’ve also been treated to quite a bit of mixed doubles recently, with Judith and Lee McCleary taking third place at the Westbay Hungarian Mixed Doubles Cup last week, and the International Mixed Doubles Dumfries event taking place this week.

With Bruce Mouat heading off to the World Men’s Championship, Gina Aitken paired up with Duncan Menzies, and they finished joint top of Pool A with Michele Jaeggi/Sven Michel of Switzerland.

Pool B was headed by Jayne Stirling/Fraser Kingan – Scotland’s representatives at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in April – ahead of Hailey Duff/Robin Brydone, while Lisa Davies/James Craik topped Pool C.

The quarter-finals brought wins for Aitken/Menzies, Jaeggi/Michel, Stirling/Kingan and Zuzana Hajkova/Tomas Paul of the Czech Republic, and in the last four Jaeggi/Michel beat Hajkova/Paul 7-6 while Stirling/Kingan won their all-Scottish battle with Aitken/Menzies 8-7 after an extra end.

And Stirling and Kingan ensured a home victory in the final!

World silver for Whyte, mixed doubles triumph for Aitken/Mouat

 

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Team Whyte with their World Junior silver medals. Pic: facebook.com/TeamWhyte

 

The Olympics may be old news now – the Paralympics have taken the spotlight – but curling goes on with its cycle of competitions.

Aberdeen hosted the World Junior Curling Championships and enjoyed home success in the form of Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, Robin Brydone, Fraser Kingan, Euan Kyle, Duncan McFadzean) taking silver.

They cruised through the round robin stage with nine wins from nine, and then beat Switzerland 5-4 in the semi-finals.

The final proved one step too far, although they fought back well from giving up three and then a steal to trail Canada 5-2 after seven ends.

With two and then a steal, Whyte brought it back to 5-5 and forced an extra end, but they could not pull off a second straight steal as Tyler Tardi made the draw to win gold for Canada.

It was still a brilliant tournament for Whyte, but Scotland women (Rebecca Morrison, Amy MacDonald, Hailey Duff, Leeanne McKenzie, Sophie Jackson) struggled.

Finishing up with three wins and six losses, that means Scotland drop down to the B-Division for next season and so must re-qualify for the main World Juniors event in 2019.

***

Meanwhile, it’s been quite a couple of weeks for Bruce Mouat.

He skipped his team to World Championship Playoff victory over Team Smith, and a place in Las Vegas, and now he has returned to mixed doubles in style alongside Gina Aitken.

The pair were on the Continent for the Slovakia Mixed Doubles Curling Cup, and eased through the group stage with five straight wins.

Sykorova/Sykora were seen off 6-2 in the quarter-finals and Naceradska/Bohac beaten 12-5 in the last four.

That set up a decider with Hungarians Szekeres/Nagy, and Aitken/Mouat scored four in the third end on their way to a 9-4 triumph.

***

This week has also seen the Brier take place, with Team Gushue defending their title as Team Canada, beating Brendan Bottcher’s Alberta 6-4 in the final to ensure they will be going to Las Vegas for the World Championship.

That event is still a couple of weeks off, but the World Women’s Championship starts this Saturday in North Bay, Canada, where Scotland will of course be represented by Hannah Fleming’s rink.

That event can be followed here.

The Paralympic curling continues this week, too, and Great Britain – skipped by Aileen Neilson – are right in the mix for a playoff place with four wins and three losses.

You can follow the scores from Pyeongchang here.

No rest for the wicked

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Could Team Fleming upset Olympians Team Muirhead at this weekend’s World Championship Playoff? Photo: Graeme Hart/Perthshire Picture Agency

They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and there’s certainly none for Team GB’s Olympic curlers, as they fight for the right to represent Scotland at this year’s World Championships.

Teams Muirhead and Smith finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, and while that’s a disappointing contrast to Sochi 2014, it’s hard to be critical in what were remarkably open fields at the competition.

Team Smith did well to overcome the likes of Switzerland and Norway as they gave themselves a great chance of making the semi-finals; their losses came against Canada (no shame there), Sweden (the Edin machine), Korea (OK, that was a bad one) and the USA – who jumped aboard a winning train that took them all the way to a shock gold.

They were in a good position against the Swiss in the tiebreaker, too, but crucially gave Benoit Schwarz a chance to score five… an outside chance, but one that he took to win the game.

For a young team, and one still pretty inexperienced at the top level of curling, this was a good first outing at the Olympics; there were some missed opportunities, sure, but Team Smith represented GB and Scotland very well indeed.

Team Muirhead did make the semi-finals on the women’s side, of course, despite a rocky round robin that included an off-colour loss to the USA and an apparent equipment malfunction in their defeat to Sweden.

The Swedes were the best team out there, as they proved by winning gold, and ultimately they outplayed the Muirhead rink in the last four.

Clearly deflated after seeing their hopes of gold snuffed out, GB did not look themselves against Japan in the bronze medal match, and one could hardly begrudge the ever-smiling Fujisawa team their place on the podium.

There’s little time for reflection, though, as both Smith and Muirhead return to competitive action this weekend.

While they were away in South Korea, the Scottish Championships took place in Perth.

Team Mouat steamrollered the men’s field, winning nine from nine in the round robin, then the 1v2 page playoff against Team Drummond (8-3), before turning it up to 11 (straight wins) by beating Drummond again in the final, 7-5 this time.

Team Fleming had a bumpier ride in the women’s event, as they won their first five round robin matches but then lost their last three.

Still they beat Team Jackson 9-7 in the 1v2 game, and managed to sneak past them again in the final, 7-6 after an extra end, to finally claim that coveted Championship title.

So this weekend, March 3-4, brings the World Championship Playoff, again at the Dewars Centre in Perth, pitting Mouat against Smith and Fleming versus Muirhead.

Scottish Curling has confirmed that the event will go ahead, despite the chaotic weather conditions, and added that BBC Scotland will have live coverage of the event – hopefully benefitting from a post-Olympics bounce.

Hopefully we will be treated to some close matches in the best of three contests; Mouat’s season has been excellent, while Fleming have made steps towards closing the gap to Muirhead this campaign.

If I had to predict the winners now, I’d have to say Mouat and Muirhead… but we will have to wait and see!

The schedule is as follows:
Saturday: Men’s Draw 1 – 2pm; Women’s Draw 1 – 6pm
Sunday: Men’s Draw 2 – 10am; Women’s Draw 2 – 2pm; Men & Women’s Draw 3 (if required) – 6.30pm

***

Of course that’s not it for curling this weekend, not even in Scotland… for Aberdeen hosts the World Junior Curling Championships!

Scotland is represented by Team Whyte (men’s) and Team Morrison (women’s), and here’s hoping that they can continue the Scots’ fine recent record in this competition.

The event kicks off tomorrow at 9am, running through to March 10, and you can follow all the latest scores here.

Several matches can be watched live via World Curling TV, and BBC Sport Scotland will again have some coverage from Aberdeen.

Teams Whyte and Morrison are Scottish Junior champions

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DELIGHT: The victorious Team Whyte. Pic: twitter.com/scottishcurling

Teams Whyte and Morrison claimed the men’s and women’s titles at the 2018 Scottish Curling Junior Championships in Aberdeen, earning the right to represent Scotland at Worlds.

With eight men’s rinks and nine women’s in action, a round robin stage would determine which three teams from each side of the competition would reach the knockout stages.

No tiebreakers were required, with Teams Whyte (W7 L0), Kinnear (W6 L1) and Baird (W5 L2) making it on the men’s side, and Teams Bryce (W7 L1), S Jackson (W7 L1) and Morrison (W6 L2) coming through from the women’s field.

In the 1v2 page playoffs, Whyte edged Kinnear 5-4, while Bryce beat Jackson 5-3.

The semi-finals saw Jackson’s women’s title defence ended, as Morrison won 5-4 after an extra end, while Kinnear stole four in the 10th end to seal an 11-5 victory against Baird.

Both finals were suitably close, with Bryce and Morrison trading twos before another two in end seven and a steal in the 10th handed a 5-3 win and the women’s title to Team Morrison (Rebecca Morrison, Amy MacDonald, Hailey Duff, Leeanne McKenzie).

Across in the men’s final, and Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, Robin Brydone, Fraser Kingan, Euan Kyle) got off to a flier with three in the first end, and despite a steal of two for Kinnear in the seventh, it was Whyte who held on to triumph 7-5.

The victorious pair will represent Scotland in the World Junior Curling Championships on home soil, with this event also being hosted by Aberdeen, on March 3-10.

***

There was a welcome return to the mixed doubles arena for Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat this weekend, with the duo competing in the Gefle Mixed Doubles Cup in Gavle, Sweden.

Aitken/Mouat sailed through to the playoffs by winning their three matches on the A-Road – 11-2 against Wild/Kohn, 8-3 versus Wendel/Wingfors and 7-5 over Noreen/Noreen.

The wins kept coming in the knockout stages, too, as they beat Andersson/Andersson 7-3 in the quarter-finals and then Szekeres/Nagy of Hungary 12-2 (with steals of two, three and three, then a four in the fifth end) to make the final.

There they played Perret/Rios of Switzerland, and the Scottish pair made it six wins from six in Sweden, scoring two in the third end and four in the sixth on their way to clinching it 8-4.

***

Finally, just a quick pointer towards Sunday night’s BBC Countryfile, which profiled Glen and Thomas Muirhead – and then put Matt Baker on the ice with Team Smith in Stirling – ahead of the Winter Olympics.

If you missed the programme, it’s available to watch again here.

Team Smith finish runners-up at German Masters – again!

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Team Smith came in second at the German Masters in Hamburg this week. Photo: Graeme Hart/Perthshire Picture Agency/British Curling

Teams Muirhead and Smith played their final competitions before the Winter Olympics next month, with both reaching the knockout stages.

The Muirhead rink (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer) were one of seven Scottish teams – the others being Bryce, Fleming, Hamilton, K Jackson, Morrison and Wilson – to compete at the Glynhill Ladies International in Glasgow.

Only Muirhead and Fleming made it out of the group stages, and they faced each other in the quarter-finals.

It was a close-run thing that went all the way to an extra end, but Muirhead took their one with hammer to win 5-4.

They were stunned in the semi-finals, though, giving up four in the fifth end as they lost 8-1 to Team Feltscher of Switzerland – who went on to win the final 7-4 against compatriots Team Stern.

As for Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith, Glen Muirhead), they were looking to go one better than last year at the German Masters in Hamburg, having been runners-up in 2017.

Joined by Teams Brewster, Bryce and Drummond, only Smith and Drummond made it to the knockout stages, where Smith beat Hess 7-2 to make the last four, but Drummond lost 6-1 to Pfister of Switzerland.

A 6-1 victory over Baumann sent Smith into the final, where they faced the Swiss Pfister rink, and led 2-0 before giving up three in the sixth end.

Skip Kyle Smith had a tough double takeout chance to win the game in the eighth end, but could only score one, and Pfister took one in the extra end to clinch it 4-3.

Still, these were promising performances for both Muirhead and Smith ahead of the Games in South Korea; fingers crossed for more of the same on the biggest stage of all.

***

Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan) were looking for a second straight Grand Slam of Curling title (!), after their success at the Boost National in November.

This week saw them take part in the Meridian Canadian Open in Camrose, Alberta, and they began with a superb 6-4 over Team Koe.

A loss to Gunnlaugson followed, and although they bounced back with a win over Shuster, defeats to McEwen and Edin saw the Mouat rink eliminated.

The men’s title went to Team De Cruz of Switzerland, after they beat Team Edin 5-3 in the final, while Team Carey won the women’s final 10-5 against Team Englot.

***

Unsurprisingly, things now quieten down ahead of the Olympics, but this week does see the Johnston Carmichael Scottish Curling Junior Championships take place at Curl Aberdeen.

There are eight men’s and nine women’s teams involved, with Teams Kinnear and Whyte looking like favourites on the men’s side, and Teams S Jackson and Morrison on the women’s.

You can follow the scores from the event, running from today (January 23) until Sunday (January 28), here.