The eventual women’s champions were Team Sweeting (Tier 1) and Team Einarson (Tier 2).
Struggles on men’s side
Things were not quite so promising for Teams Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) and Drummond (Greg Drummond, Ross Paterson, Gregor Cannon, Michael Goodfellow) on the men’s side at the Tour Challenge.
There’s plenty of work for Smith to do ahead of the Olympics, underlined by four defeats – to McCormick, Edin, Simmons and Epping – in their Tier 1 pool.
In Tier 2, Drummond managed to go one better than at last week’s Oakville Tankard by winning a game (against Jacobson), but losses to Brown, Gunnlaugson and Lyburn ended their challenge early.
The men’s winners were Team Gushue (Tier 1) and Team Gunnlaugson (Tier 2).
Mouat at the double
Away from the Grand Slam, but still in Canada, Teams Brewster (Tom Brewster, Duncan Menzies, Scott Andrews, Alasdair Schreiber) and Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan) took part in the Biosteel Oakville Fall Classic.
Brewster lost their first three pool games (to Mabergs, Kim and Steski), which meant that their victory over Zou was only a consolation.
Mouat, by contrast, cruised through the group stage, beating Retornaz, Baumann, Maus and Dickie to book their passage to the quarter-finals.
Further wins against Horgan (6-5) and Schwaller (8-7, stealing one in an extra end) sent them into the final, where they faced Chang-Min Kim of Korea.
It was a tight match, with only singles scored as it went to an extra end, but Mouat held hammer and scored their one to win 4-3.
That’s two events entered and two titles gained for Team Mouat to start the season, and they’re yet to lose a single match (played 14, won 14).
It’s going to take a good team to stop these boys if they keep this up!
That didn’t take long, did it? One week, two events, two Scottish wins in World Curling Tour events.
We’re barely into September, but a slightly altered Team Bryce and a rather more different Team Mouat have already secured their first titles, in Tallinn and Oakville, respectively.
With our first Grand Slam of the season just around the corner, here’s hoping that Scottish curling can carry this initial form further into the season.
Bryce rise to the challenge
While four Scottish teams headed west to Canada, Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Ross Whyte, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle) went east to Estonia, for the Tallinn Challenger.
They cruised through the round robin stage, finishing with four wins (against Teams Truksans, Lill, Svensgaard and Jungen) and no defeats.
They faced Team Eremin (Russia) in the last four, and a 7-3 win put them into the final against Team Gulbis of Latvia.
Again Bryce were just too strong for their opponents, scoring three in end three and stealing two in the fourth on their way to a 7-2 victory and the Tallinn Challenger title.
Skip Cameron Bryce told British Curling: “The whole team played really well, although we are still learning with our change of line-up for the season.”
The team now return to the new National Curling Academy, to prepare for the Braehead Open (September 22-24).
Mouat takes Tankard triumph
Teams Brewster, Drummond, Mouat and Smith ensured Scotland was well represented at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard in Ontario, but it was Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan) who finished top of the pile.
I said in my season preview that I was excited to see what these boys could do on tour this season… it looks like I have my answer already.
Things were not so rosy for Team Drummond, though, as they lost to Mouat, McCormick and Deruelle to bow out early.
It’s early days for this rink, certainly, but they will be hoping for more at next week’s GSOC Tour Challenge (Tier 2).
Team Brewster have also rung the changes, and they had something of a rollercoaster in Oakville – a defeat to Fournier to drop onto the B-Road, wins over Corbett and Kim, a loss to Clark, victory over Stjerne, and finally a defeat to McCormick to end their involvement.
Team Smith, by contrast, have kept the same roster (only adding Glen Muirhead as alternate ahead of the Olympics), and they made the quarter-finals in Oakville.
Not that it was a smooth journey. Beaten by Kim first up, they then saw off Zou and Horgan, lost to Simmons to land on the C-Road, but then overcame Fournier and Gunnlaugson to make the playoffs.
Those quarter-finals pitted them against Mouat, who had sailed into the last eight thanks to four straight wins – against Ainsley, Drummond, Horgan and Clark.
Mouat dominated the all-Scottish meeting, taking three in end one, then a steal, and then twos in ends four and six to win it 8-3.
Mouat’s semi-final was tighter, but one in end eight was enough to see off Horgan, setting up a final against Kim of Korea.
The Korean rink scored three in end four to lead 3-1, but twos in ends five and seven, plus a steal in the eighth, gave Mouat a 6-4 victory – making it W7 L0 at the event.
For this team to have gelled this quickly is highly impressive, especially given the quality of the other teams on show.
So that’s $8,000 in the bank for Mouat already; their next event is the Oakville OCT Fall Classic (alongside Brewster) – can they maintain their hot streak?
It’s been a packed end to the season, with the good (Team Smith’s European Masters win, bronze for Scotland women at World Seniors) mixed with the bad (Scotland/GB missing out on Olympic Mixed Doubles).
Here’s a quick round-up of how the 2016-17 season has come to its conclusion.
Firstly to St Gallen, where the European Masters involved three Scottish men’s teams – Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan), Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) and Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith).
Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Vicky Wright, Alice Spence) were the sole Scots on the women’s side, but after two wins in the opening two matches versus Teams Schöpp (6-4) and Thompson (6-5) they lost their three remaining group matches to miss out on the final.
Not the results we wanted at the European masters but a great event none the less,Thanks to the organisers. Our season done is for 16/17
In the men’s event, it wasn’t a great tournament for Murdoch, as they only picked up one win from seven round robin games – 7-4 against Team Walstad.
Team Brewster did rather better, with wins against Murdoch (8-2), Pfister (5-3), Walstad (10-1) and McCormick (4-2) qualifying them for the 3v4 game versus McCormick, which the Scots won 4-2.
The best performance, though, came from Team Smith, who won four of their round robin matches – against Pfister (5-4), Murdoch (7-5), Brewster (7-3) and McCormick (8-5) – to edge by Brewster to make the final.
There they faced the ever-menacing Team Edin, and Smith finally got one over on the serial Slam-winning Swedes, as two in end four and one in end eight saw them pinch it 5-4.
The Champions Cup – for teams who have won major competitions during the season – took place in Calgary, Alberta, and involved three Scottish rinks – Teams Brewster and Hardie (Grant Hardie, Blair Fraser, David Reid, Duncan Menzies) on the men’s side, and Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) on the women’s.
Neither men’s team could progress from the round robin, with Brewster taking a win against Team Morozumi (9-3) but being beaten by Teams Laycock (5-4), McEwen (9-1) and Gushue (6-3).
Had a blast at the Grand Slam last week in Calgary… we'll be working hard to be back next season! A huge thank… https://t.co/Kwh6SOA4pV
Hardie, meanwhile, lost all four games – against Teams De Cruz (8-1), Carruthers (6-3), Jacobs (8-6) and Morris (6-3) – but this was undoubtedly a helpful experience for the team in a Slam environment.
The men’s title went the way of Team Jacobs, who overcame Team Koe 6-2 in the final.
Muirhead also missed out on the women’s playoffs – beating Flaxey (9-4) but losing to Pätz (7-2), Jones (7-6) and Wrana (6-2).
Well that's a wrap from Team Muirhead on the 16/17 season! Looking forward to time off and hard work over the next months…keep you posted! pic.twitter.com/o3TtOgHdCM
The women’s final was contested by Teams Homan and Hasselborg, with Homan scoring two in end eight to pinch it 5-4.
The World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Lethbridge, Canada, saw Scotland represented by Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat.
They swept the round robin, with victories over Norway (6-3), Bulgaria (10-3), Ireland (8-5), Wales (11-2), Serbia (11-0), Denmark (8-2) and Italy (8-4).
Also in Scotland’s group, Ireland (Alison Fyfe and Neil Fyfe) won four and lost three (beating Serbia 10-2, Denmark 7-3, Bulgaria 11-4 and Wales 11-2, but losing to Italy 5-4, Scotland and Norway 10-4), with Wales (Dawn Watson and Adrian Meikle) coming in on W2 L5 (winning against Serbia 11-3 and Denmark 9-7, but defeated by Norway 6-2, Scotland, Italy 9-8, Ireland and Bulgaria).
England (Anna Fowler and Ben Fowler) just missed out on qualifying from the round robin, finishing on a W4 L3 record (beating France 8-5, Kazakhstan 17-2, Turkey 10-5 and Germany 9-6, but losing to the USA 7-2, the Czech Republic 6-4 and Canada 7-6).
The quarter-finals saw Ireland face Korea, losing 6-3, while Scotland – despite winning their group – faced Canadians Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers, and they were beaten 8-3 after giving up four in end seven.
Now scrambling to qualify for the Olympics, Aitken and Mouat faced Sweden – and scored four in end four as they beat them 9-2 – while the Irish pair lost to Russia 7-5.
It was the Russians Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii up next for Scotland, and again Aitken/Mouat lost to a very strong opponent, 6-5, as Russia scored singles in ends one, three, four, six, seven and the extra to edge a tight match.
Scotland had to beat Italy next and hope. They did that, 7-5, but Norway’s win over Finland denied them a spot at Pyeongchang 2018, with just two points in it on the ranking system.
Sport is seldom ‘fair’, and Scotland had the misfortune to face Canada and Russia after a flawless round robin.
What would seem flawed is a qualification process that places so much emphasis on a couple of games at one event, over the hard work and consistent tournament success of a Scottish duo who have spent the last four years working towards an Olympic spot, and were clearly heartbroken to fall short.
Switzerland, who went unbeaten through the championship, beat Canada 6-5 in the final to win gold, with China taking silver.
Lethbridge also hosted the World Senior Curling Championships, with Scotland represented by Ian Drysdale, David McQueen, Ronald Wilson, Graham Lindsay and Andrew Hemming (alternate) in the men’s event.
They finished the round robin with a W3 L3 record, as they saw off Finland 6-3, England 4-2 and Russia 12-2, but were beaten by Canada (7-2), Wales (6-4) and New Zealand (5-2)).
That meant a tiebreaker against Wales (Adrian Meikle, Richard Pougher, Chris Wells, Gary Waddell, Alistair Reid (alternate)), who had also won three and lost three, and again the Welsh came out on top, 5-4 this time, to put the Scots out.
England men (Thomas Campbell, Philip Barton, Mike Spain, Alastair Fyfe) ended up on W1 L5, with Ireland men (Peter Wilson, Johnjo Kenny, Bill Gray, David Whyte, David Hume (alternate)) on W5 L2.
Wales beat Israel 8-6 to make the last eight, but there they succumbed 8-1 to Canada; Ireland, though, qualified for the quarter-finals with a 5-4 win over Denmark.
Canada proved too strong for the Irish in the semi-finals, winning 5-2, but the Irish did secure bronze with a 6-3 win over Germany in the 3v4 game, while Sweden pipped Canada to gold.
As for the women’s competition, Scotland (Jackie Lockhart, Christine Cannon, Isobel Hannen, Margaret Richardson, Janet Lindsay (alternate)) qualified from Group B with five wins (against the Czech Republic (9-2), Slovakia (15-1), Australia (9-1), Finland (7-6 after an extra end) and Switzerland (8-4)) and one loss (versus the USA (6-4)).
England women (Judith Dixon, Val Saville, Helen Forbes, Deborah Higgins) were W3 L4 for the event, with Ireland women (Carolyn Hibberd, Marie O’Kane, Louise Kerr, Clare McCormick) W1 L6.
Scotland, having finished second in their group to the USA, had to beat Russia to make the last four, which they did 10-0.
Their semi-final pitted them against Colleen Jones’ Canada, and it was the host country who emerged victorious with a two in end eight to win 5-3.
Canada took gold and Switzerland silver, and Scotland ensured they joined them on the podium by beating the USA 8-5 (scoring four in end five) in the bronze medal match.
Skip Lockhart said: “It feels really good to get a medal and to go back with something after not playing quite the ‘A’ game we wanted against Canada.
“We had to fight really hard for that. It’s been a tough week but every medal makes the season worthwhile and we’ve still got years to play in seniors, so…bring it on.”
Team Murdoch won the men’s title at the Scottish Curling Championships for the first time since claiming their 2014 Winter Olympic silver medals, while Team Muirhead clinched their third women’s title in succession.
Finals day began with Team Muirhead facing Team Fleming in the women’s title decider, and a three in end five and two in end eight gave Eve Muirhead’s rink a 6-4 victory and the skip her seventh title.
Teams Mouat and Murdoch, both on six-game winning runs, collided later in the afternoon, and David Murdoch’s men were ruthless in punishing Mouat mistakes, scoring four in end three and three in the fifth to triumph 10-4.
Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Glenn Howard (coach)) went unbeaten through the tournament, with six wins in the round robin (see my review here) and victory over Team Smith in the 1v2 page playoff.
They had only just edged by Hazel Smith’s rink in the group stage, stealing two in end 10 to win 11-9, but they did a professional job on the same opponents in the playoff.
Twos in ends four and six propelled them to a 6-3 victory, putting them into the final and tipping Smith into a semi-final against Hannah Fleming’s rink.
Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright, Nancy Smith (coach)) had endured a tough round robin, forcing a tiebreaker by beating Team Gina Aitken in their last match.
There they saw off Team Karina Aitken 8-4, putting them into the semi with Smith.
A third consecutive victory followed, as twos in ends one and three, plus three in end six, won them the match 9-6 and booked their spot in the final.
Team Fleming made the better start to that final, maintaining their composure and preventing the Muirhead rink getting an early jump on them, as it was tied at 1-1 after four ends.
But a couple of fine shots from Sloan, and loose ones from Fleming, gave Muirhead the opportunity to hit for three, which she duly made for a 4-1 lead at halfway.
Fleming took a single in end six and stole one in end seven to narrow the gap to one, but Muirhead hit back with a two in the eighth end for a 6-3 lead which always looked difficult to pull back.
So it proved, Muirhead running out 6-4 winners for a third consecutive Scottish title (seventh in all) and passage to Worlds in Beijing (March 18-26).
Afterwards, Eve Muirhead said: “I think patience was a key factor out there. Right from the off Hannah and the girls played really well, and so did we.
“We knew we had a game on our hands, we expected that, and as a team we never get ahead of ourselves or get complacent, so we stayed patient and then got that little break in the fifth end, scored the three and that gave us a little jump ahead.
Adams added: “This is what we train for, we do a lot behind the scenes, not just on the ice, and we take each game as one game, we don’t get too ahead of ourselves.
“We individualise the games, break them down into stones, single ends, making it much easier to focus on that rather than the bigger picture.”
While Muirhead won her seventh title, and Sloan and Adams their sixth, it was a first success for lead Gray, who capped it with two perfect tick shots in the final end.
She said: “I’m so delighted to have won my first Scottish Championship; it was an absolute joy to be playing with the girls today.
“I’ve been working hard on the tick shots, as this is my first season as a lead, so I was really pleased to make them both in the 10th end.”
Muirhead also praised coach Glenn Howard, adding: “As soon as we brought him on board we knew he’d help us in a lot of different ways, especially on the tactical side, and that’s just what he’s done.
“I think he was more nervous than us today! But he’s been fantastic, and absolutely delighted to get his first Scottish title I guess – but now he has the Canadian Championship coming up next week, and we’re all behind him for that.”
Now the focus turns to the World Championships in China, on which Sloan said: “It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ll get back to training pretty quickly.
“We’re really looking forward to getting out there, the field will be tough this year as always, but we’re in a good place and we just need to build on our performances this week – I think we’ve been pretty consistent.
“We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge.”
The men’s final was a meeting of the two form teams, with Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Derrick Sloan, Alasdair Schreiber (alternate), Alan Hannah (coach)) and Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow, Ian Tetley (coach)) both on six-game winning streaks.
Team Murdoch had a slow start, but picked up the pace to finish on a W7 L2 record and top the standings – review of the men’s round robin here.
That put them into the 1v2 page playoff against Kyle Smith’s rink, and after a tight match Murdoch emerged victorious 4-3, stealing one in end six and taking their one down the last to make the final.
Team Mouat had to get there the hard way after a terrible Tuesday – losing heavily to Teams Murdoch and Whyte – and three wins on the trot forced a tiebreaker against Team Hardie, which they edged 5-4.
They faced defending champions Team Brewster in the 3v4 playoff, and steals in ends five and six, then a two in the ninth, gave them a 6-4 victory.
Their semi-final with Team Smith was dramatic in the extreme, Mouat dominating the opening five ends and leading 4-2.
Two in end seven and successive steals looked to have swung it for Smith, but a disastrous final end saw them give up three, Mouat winning 7-6 to set up a Murdoch showdown.
It was a showdown which saw Murdoch clinically exploit little mistakes from Mouat, who was playing an aggressive game but seemed to run out of gas after their Universiade exploits and long week in Perth.
Draws came up short or were a touch wide, and after the teams traded twos in the first couple of ends, Murdoch exploded into a 9-3 lead after five ends, courtesy of four in end three and three in the fifth.
There were to be no miracles for Mouat to allow a comeback as Murdoch completed a professional job well done, handshakes offered in the eighth end with the score 10-4.
An elated David Murdoch reflected on a ruthless performance afterwards: “That’s how we wanted to be. We didn’t win our last two finals, and we wanted to make sure that as we were the more experienced team we came across with that authority, played our A game and put a lot of pressure on the guys.
“For a first final it’s quite daunting out there and we wanted to make sure we put them under as much pressure as we could.”
On his team, he said: “I’m super proud of them. We’ve had this as our goal for a long, long time and put in a ton of work.
“It’s not easy to win this championship; we’ve had a super week, and we look to keep that going and get a good result in the World Championships.
“It’s something the general public probably don’t see, the early starts, in the gym and on the ice; you need to have that amount of work put in to achieve that type of goal.
“We covered every aspect of this week, we wanted to make sure we left no stone unturned, and we certainly did that.”
Murdoch is under no illusions that competition at Worlds will be fierce, adding: “The World Championship a year before the Olympics is probably the toughest year; every team is coming up to their best at the end of the quadrennial.
“It’s in the lion’s den, in Edmonton, and we know how exciting that is – we’ve been there and done it plenty of times, and that excites us too.
“We need to be at our best as it’s going to be a tough fight. [But] I like our chances.
“I’ve said for a long time, although results might not have been going well this season at times, I always like the way we’re throwing it, and we just needed the extra challenge of the Scottish Championship, some good ice conditions, and we brought our best.”
The round robin stage of the Scottish Curling Championships is complete, and the men’s section saw less playoff pandemonium than the year before, where five teams finished on W6 L3 records.
This year it only required one tiebreaker between Teams Hardie and Mouat to give us a final four of Teams Brewster, Mouat, Murdoch and Smith.
The 10 teams involved in the championship all played their part, with Team Telfer – who lost all nine of their games – coming within a couple of shots of beating Team Smith, edged out 7-6.
Kyle Smith and his rink were also glad to escape unscathed from a tough encounter with Team Whyte, who outplayed their opponents for much of the match but lost 7-3.
It was one of a number of impressive performances from the young team, who shrugged off the loss of regular skip Ross Whyte (he’s at the World Junior Championships as Cameron Bryce’s fifth man) to claim five wins.
Their six-man rotation, skipped by Callum Kinnear when he wasn’t working, upset Teams Murdoch (7-5) and Mouat (8-1), took Team Brewster to an extra end (losing 8-7), and were left to rue a few bad shots in defeat to Team Smith.
Kyle Smith said: “They [Whyte] seemed to have a really good week.
“They’re good curlers, and upset a few folk, so we were quite relieved to get over the finish line against them.”
The Smith rink posted seven victories to two defeats, putting them joint top of the round robin standings and into the 1v2 page playoff against David Murdoch’s Olympians.
“That’s 100 per cent where we wanted to be at the start of the week,” said Smith. “So we’re very pleased.
“We’ve been pretty good, we’ve had some tough games and had to dig deep to steal sometimes or create our twos, but we’re all working together so we need to keep that going.
“Hopefully we’re due a win over him [Murdoch], so we’ll see how we get on.”
Team Murdoch lost two of their first four games – to Hardie and Whyte – but since then they’ve won five in a row, meaning they carry the best form into the playoffs.
Skip Murdoch said: “Our number one priority is to get into the playoffs, and it’s a great bonus that we’re in the 1v2 – that’s where we’ve been aiming the whole week.
“We did have a slow start, but we’ve played some great curling this week and bossed some teams around, and beat a lot of teams that have been playing well.”
In fact they have defeated three of the top five in the section, beating Teams Smith (7-5), Mouat (9-2) and Brewster (8-6).
Murdoch added: “We’re in a good place. It’s going to be a tough weekend – everyone’s in it to win it, and so are we, so we hope to bring our best game to the weekend.
“We’ve been on a bit of a win streak, so you feel good and have your chest puffed out from that.
“When you have a good feeling you’re relaxed, and you just need to bring the intensity.”
Rivalling Murdoch for form are Team Mouat who, after their chastening defeats to Murdoch and Whyte on Tuesday, have won four in a row, including the tiebreaker with Team Hardie.
Grant Hardie’s rink enjoyed another good week, starting with four straight wins, but ultimately it ended in frustration as defeats to Smith, Mouat and Brewster pushed them into a decider with Mouat, the latter scoring two in end eight in winning 5-4.
Skip Bruce Mouat paid tribute to his opponents, saying: “They’re [Hardie] really strong, we’ve played them quite a few times this season and it’s probably been 50-50 games-wise, so it was good to win tonight.”
Mouat added: “It’s always going to be quite tiring after a week’s rest and then playing another long week, but I think we’ve really managed to rest well over the week – and that’s what we go to the gym for!”
But it’s target achieved for them in Perth, and they’re a dangerous side in the last four.
“Initially [making playoffs] is what we set out to do, and then obviously we want to win it now, so it’s three must-wins,” said Mouat.
“A winning run is always important. We had a rough Tuesday, losing two on the trot, and bad losses, but now it’s four on the trot that we’ve won.
“Going into the games with a bit of momentum is always a good thing, so if we show up and play well we’ll definitely cause some problems for the other teams.”
But standing in their way are reigning champions Team Brewster, who finished alongside Teams Murdoch and Smith on W7 L2, but having lost to both they missed out on playing in the 1v2 game.
Not that skip Tom Brewster has any complaints about his rink’s round robin performance.
“I think we’re playing just as well as we were last year; I don’t see much difference.
“Even the game we lost yesterday to Dave [Murdoch], we probably outplayed them apart from one bad end which cost us the game.”
The concession of fours in end six against Smith and end two versus Murdoch were decisive, fighting back from 5-1 down to 6-6 in the latter match, before being beaten 8-6.
“We’ve lost two games this week where, truthfully, one bad end has cost us the game, so we just need to cut out a couple of those simple mistakes in the ends we’ve given up,” Brewster added.
“We’ve not played badly in either lost game, just our opponents have been exceptional. So if we cut that out we’ll be in a good place.”
As for the 3v4 match-up, it pits them against a team they’ve already beaten in Team Mouat, albeit after an extra end.
Brewster said: “It’s one extra game, that’s it; you’ve just got to be here at the end of the week.
“I’m confident, we’ve had a good end to the week and we’re improving as the week’s gone on, so that’s what matters.”
The Scottish Curling Championships return to Perth this weekend, with Teams Brewster and Muirhead aiming to retain their respective men’s and women’s titles.
We’ve past the ‘one year to go’ mark to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which means the stakes are raised up a notch – these championships are not just about the Scottish titles, or Worlds qualification, but also about making a statement in the race to Pyeongchang.
With the Roaring Game Blog joining curlers and fans in descending on Perth, here is a guide to the teams in contention and what’s in store over the week.
KEY CONTENDERS – MEN
Team Brewster have put themselves in the box seat for Pyeongchang by winning last year’s Scottish Championships, and then qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in Braehead.
The Euros didn’t go to plan for the Brewster rink, but in the last couple of months they have won the Karuizawa International and Perth Masters, and of course you would expect them to be up there again in the Fair City.
Tom Brewster’s GB team-mates in Sochi in 2014, Team Murdoch, would seem to be running out of chances to return to the Olympics, having failed to represent their country in the three years since those last Games.
They’re the top-ranked Scottish rink this season though – currently 12th in the World Curling Tour Order of Merit, ahead of Team Smith in 14th and Team Brewster in 18th – and skip David Murdoch is a serial winner of this competition (as were his team from 2011-13).
But they have found their route to major championships blocked in recent years – often by Brewster – so, should they both reach the final this year, will Murdoch finally be able to turn the tables?
There’s no guarantee of a Brewster-Murdoch final, mind you, as Team Smith have enjoyed a superb season in winning the OCT Oakville title and reaching a first Grand Slam of Curling final at the Tour Challenge.
If they put a run of wins together they’re very hard to stop, so don’t rule out a first Scottish title for Kyle Smith and co this year.
KEY CONTENDERS – WOMEN
Defending champions Team Muirhead arrive in Perth, once again, as big favourites – their skip is going for her seventh Scottish title after all.
Naturally Eve and co are favourites to represent GB in Pyeongchang too, and have brought Lauren Gray in at lead and Glenn Howard as tactical coach with the aim of upgrading on the bronze won in Sochi.
And it’s not been a bad season so far for the re-jigged line-up, with tour victories in Basel and Glasgow (the Glynhill Ladies International), plus European bronze.
With last year’s second-placed skip, Gray, now in the Muirhead ranks, their main adversaries would seem to come in the form of Team Fleming.
Having brought Jen Dodds and Vicky Wright on board, the Fleming rink have had an excellent season, reaching finals at the Stockholm Ladies Cup, Red Deer Classic and Qinghai China International, and rising to 29th in the WCT Order of Merit.
Their head-to-heads with Muirhead have tended to go the way of the more experienced skip, but these championships gives Fleming the perfect chance to show how much that gap has narrowed this year.
DARK HORSES – MEN
There’s nothing like a gold medal to perk you up before a(nother) major competition, and that’s just what Team Mouat achieved at the Winter University Games in Kazakhstan earlier this month.
The reigning Junior World Champions certainly have the talent and pedigree to cause a major headache for Brewster, Murdoch et al.
As do Team Hardie, who were impressive at the last Scottish Champs and have once again performed well on the Scottish Curling Tour, clinching the overall tour crown with one event remaining.
They like pulling off an upset these boys, so don’t be surprised if they put a few noses out of joint on their way to a playoff spot.
Hardie themselves were upset in the Forfar Open final by relative newcomers Team Fraser – they have a former Scottish champion in Ruairidh Greenwood, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against the more established names.
DARK HORSES – WOMEN
Team G Aitken were, like Team Mouat, at the World University Games, and narrowly missed out on a playoff place after losing a tiebreaker against Switzerland.
They have gained valuable experience on tour this season too, and will be eager to prove that a Fleming v Muirhead final is far from a formality.
(One stone at a time, one game at a time… I know, I know.)
Younger rinks Team K Aitken – Scottish Junior runners-up this year – and Team MacDonald – 2017 Asham Under 21 Slam winners – are also ones to look out for.
THE BIG MATCH(ES)
The 10 men’s rinks and seven women’s will play round robin games from Sunday, February 19 to Thursday, February 23.
Some match-ups to look out for include:
Murdoch v Smith (Monday Feb 20 at noon) – the first clash between probable title contenders on the men’s side.
Fleming v Muirhead (Monday Feb 20 at 4pm) – the two highest-ranked women’s teams look to land an early psychological blow.
Brewster v Smith (Monday Feb 20 at 8pm) – big day for Team Smith this one, with their second game versus a 2016 finalist, and also Glen Muirhead v Thomas Muirhead.
G Aitken v K Aitken (Tuesday Feb 21 at 8am) – more sibling rivalry, this time between skips in the women’s section.
Brewster v Murdoch (Wednesday Feb 22 at noon) – a repeat of last year’s final, the two big favourites… let’s hope it’s better than their 2016 round robin meeting, which was over far too quickly.
G Aitken v Fleming (Wednesday Feb 22 at 4pm) – two teams looking to close the gap to Muirhead. Who will come out on top?
Hardie v Mouat (Wednesday Feb 22 at 8pm) – outside of the big three of Brewster, Murdoch and Smith, these rinks look best equipped to challenge.
Tiebreakers (if required) will take place on Thursday Feb 23 at 6.30pm, ahead of the page playoffs (Feb 24 at noon), semi-finals (Feb 24 at 7pm), women’s final (Feb 25 at 11am) and men’s final (Feb 25 at 4pm).
The Royal Caledonian Curling Club event page will have all the team line-ups, linescores and standings during the week, and of course I will be doing my best to bring updates via the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.
Although the BBC will be filming at the championships, with highlights to be broadcast the week after the event finishes, there will be no live streaming of matches.
The fourth best way to enjoy curling, so says the tagline, is CurlingGeek, and I will endeavour to cover as many games as possible from Monday… hopefully with fewer trolls than last year.
That said, if you can make it to Perth for a day or two, watching (for free) from the friendly fans’ viewing area above the sheets is heartily recommended – it’s only the finals on Saturday which require tickets via Eventbrite.
Team Brewster began 2017 as they ended 2016 – with a title, this time at the Perth Masters.
Last year saw Tom Brewster’s quartet win the Scottish Championships, European Playdowns and Karuizawa International, and they got this year off to the ideal start.
Also this weekend, Team Smith were involved in another Grand Slam of Curling event, the Canadian Open, while Team Jackson have successfully qualified Scotland for the World Women’s Junior Championship.
Thirty-two teams from around the world arrived for the Perth Masters, which is becoming a major Curling Champions Tour event – with live online coverage to match.
Ten Scottish teams began the triple knockout competition, and three of those made the playoffs – Teams Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan), Hardie (Grant Hardie, Blair Fraser, Dave Reid, Duncan Menzies) and MacDonald (Ewan MacDonald, David Edwards, Duncan Fernie, Euan Byers).
Brewster began with wins over Foss (7-1), Snitil 6-2 and MacDonald (7-1), but lost their A Road final 5-3 against last year’s runners-up, Team Ulsrud of Norway.
It mattered little, though, as they then beat Pfister 4-1 and MacDonald (again, 5-1 this time) on the B Road to secure a playoff spot.
MacDonald, having beaten Kauste 10-4 and Pfister 6-4 but suffered their first defeat to Brewster, took victories over Ramsfjell (6-1) and Eskilsson (7-3).
There then followed their second loss to Brewster, but a 7-3 success against fellow Scots Bryce saw them into the knockout stages.
As for Hardie, they opened by overcoming Walstad 5-4, but then lost 5-3 to Eskilsson.
On the B Road they defeated compatriots Bryce 5-4 (stealing one in the extra end) but were then knocked down to the C Road, Pfister edging their match 3-2.
So Hardie needed three straight wins to make the playoffs… and that’s just what they got, against Schwaller (7-5), then two other Scottish rinks – Murdoch (5-4, again stealing one in the extra end) and Mouat (7-3).
Come the quarter-finals, Brewster stole singles in ends seven and eight to eke out a 6-4 victory against Liu Rui of China.
But the last eight proved to be the limit for Hardie – beaten 8-2 by Baumann of Germany after giving up four in end four – and MacDonald – losing out 4-2 to Ulsrud in a tight match.
Brewster had to board the steal train again in their semi-final with Baumann; having been 3-0 down, they scored twos in the seventh and eighth ends for another 6-4 win.
In the final they faced Walstad, who had shocked their fellow Norwegians Ulsrud in last four, and the match was tied 3-3 after five ends.
But three for Brewster in end six, followed up by a steal of two in the seventh, handed them victory by an 8-3 scoreline and meant they were Masters of Perth!
Tom Brewster – celebrating his record fourth Perth Masters title – told British Curling: “This is a fantastic event – it’s really well organised, the ice is always good.
“It’s always a strong field and to come out on top is a real honour.
“It goes down in the record books because people see this as one of the biggest events in Europe.”
Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) took part in the Grand Slam of Curling Canadian Open in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, but unfortunately they were not involved for long.
In a triple knockout competition, they lost 5-4 to Team Jacobs, 9-5 to Team Korte and 6-3 to Team Epping, which saw them eliminated.
The men’s final was contested by Teams Edin and Gushue, and it was the Canadians – with skip Brad Gushue clearly back in the swing of things after injury, as he threw 100 per cent in the final – who triumphed 8-3.
As for the women’s title, that went to Team Scheidegger – not one of the best known Canadian rinks, but one which has found fine form this season, including winning the HDF Insurance Shoot Out, where they defeated Team Muirhead in the final.
Here they faced Team Tirinzoni of Switzerland, and won it 5-4 thanks to a steal of one in the eighth end.
Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair, Laura Barr (alternate), coached by Cate Brewster) have qualified Scotland for the women’s section of the 2017 World Junior Championships.
Playing at the World Junior-B Championships in Östersund, Sweden, they won all six of their round robin matches – against Spain (11-4), Latvia (6-3), Estonia (5-3), Norway (5-2), Romania (13-2) and the Czech Republic (7-1).
We finished the round robin on a win against Czech Republic! We have secured a place in the quarters at 8pm on Monday (7pm Scotland). 😊 pic.twitter.com/HHaVGxuVxL