As 2017 looms large, it’s time for The Roaring Game Blog to look back on the first half of the curling season.
There was plenty going on – although thankfully #Broomgate controversy has vanished from the spotlight, following the World Curling Federation’s sweeping summit and new regulations.
That means the focus has been on the ice, with Scottish teams more than holding their own as non-Canadian teams draw closer to the likes of Gushue, Homan and Koe.
Here are some of the highlights…
BRAEHEAD: Curling came home, as Braehead hosted the 2016 European Championships… which ended up being pretty similar to the 2015 Championships.
Just as in Esbjerg 12 months previously, Sweden won men’s gold (more on Team Edin later), Russia won women’s gold, Scotland men fell short of the playoffs, and Scotland women medalled again.
Team Brewster defeated all of the eventual men’s medallists (Sweden, Norway and Switzerland) in the round robin but finished in sixth place – missing the playoffs but qualifying Scotland for the 2017 World Men’s Curling Championships.
Team Muirhead cruised through the round robin, winning nine from nine, but had one bad game – against eventual winners Team Moiseeva of Russia – and had to settle for bronze… skip Eve Muirhead’s seventh consecutive European medal, a remarkable run of consistency.
In the B-Division, England’s men and women, and Wales men, all won more than they lost – but none made the playoffs, the English women particularly unlucky, with three of their defeats coming after an extra end.
KINGS OF SWEDEN: Team Edin have been the outstanding team in the world this year, the Swedes winning their third consecutive European gold, as well as claiming victory at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Swiss Cup Basel, Champery Masters and the first two Grand Slam of Curling events of the season – the Masters and Tour Challenge.
No team has perfected the art of starting a tournament slowly and finishing it like a steam train quite like Niklas Edin’s rink, and they look more than capable of continuing their amazing title-winning form into 2017.
THE RIVALS PART I: Team Smith have enjoyed an outstanding first half of the season, despite being beaten to European qualification by Team Brewster, and it could have been even better had they not repeatedly run into the red-hot Team Edin.
Kyle Smith’s quartet won the Oakville OCT Fall Classic to kick-start their season, before making the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard semi-finals (beaten by Edin) and Swiss Cup Basel semis (beaten by Edin).
They then reached their first ever Grand Slam final, at the Tour Challenge in Cranbrook, where they finished as runners-up… to Edin.
So far, so Djokovic v Murray in tennis slam finals – but Smith’s form shows they’re a match for anyone in the world, which they continued to demonstrate by taking the Dumfries Challenger title just before Christmas to sit 13th in the World Curling Tour Order of Merit rankings.
FLEMING TAKE FLIGHT: Just like their 2013 World University Games comrades Team Smith, this half season has been a real breakthrough for Team Fleming.
Hannah Fleming’s rink, having added Jen Dodds and Vicky Wright to the line-up, have pulled off some remarkable victories over top teams and posted a series of runners-up finishes.
The Women’s Masters Basel saw them reach the semi-finals, and they upped that result by reaching finals at the Stockholm Ladies Cup, Red Deer Curling Classic and Qinghai China International, only to fall short of the top prize each time.
A first title of the season may still elude them, but there’s no doubt they’re on the up – to 27th in the women’s Order of Merit.
DIFFERENT NAMES, SAME RESULTS: Team Fleming are still chasing the top Scots though – Team Muirhead have added Lauren Gray at lead and Glenn Howard as coach, while fielding Kelly Schafer at third for the first few months of the season while Anna Sloan recovered from injury, but they have looked no less impressive.
They were the best women’s team in Braehead (and so were unlucky to ‘only’ win bronze), while also coming in as runners-up at the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out and Colonial Square Ladies Classic.
After those second-placed finishes, they finally got to the top spot of the podium by winning the Women’s Masters Basel – and ended 2016 by coming third at the Karuizawa International.
The 2018 Winter Olympics remain the ultimate goal for these ladies, and the indications are that they’re gelling with plenty of time to spare.
NICE TO SEE YOU, TO SEE YOU BRYCE: Team Murdoch were runners-up at the Swiss Cup Basel and Karuizawa International, Team Brewster won the latter, but the most successful Scottish men’s side aside from Team Smith have been Team Bryce.
With a rejigged line-up of their own, they’ve had a fantastic first half to the season – winning the EJCT Braehead Junior International, Greenacres Junior Masters (U21 Slam), Kinross Junior Classic (U21 Slam) and EJCT Livechannel Cup.
Add to that third place at the EJCT Thun event and second at the Dumfries Challenger (pushing Smith all the way in the final), and it’s no surprise to see them ranked as Europe’s second best junior team.
They’re also favourites to win next year’s Scottish Juniors to qualify for Worlds.
THE RIVALS PART II: Team Bryce’s superb form has irked one team more than most: Team Whyte, who just haven’t quite managed to get the best of them yet.
Bryce won their head-to-heads in the Braehead Junior International final, Greenacres Junior Masters final, Kinross Junior Classic final and EJCT Thun third-place playoff.
Ross Whyte’s boys have had a fine season themselves, mind you – runners-up at the Dumfries Open and winners of the Inverness Junior International and Lockerbie Junior International U21 Slams.
And 3/4 of their line-up, skipped by Callum Kinnear, have been tearing it up in the U17 Slams – victors at the Stevenson Trophy, Lanarkshire Slam and Baljaffray Trophy.
EUROPE’S BEST: Team Jackson are first in the EJCT women’s rankings after enjoying their own excellent half season.
It’s been a very busy one for Sophie Jackson and co, but their highlights include winning the women’s titles at the EJCT Braehead Junior International, Greenacres Junior Masters and EJCT Prague Junior Cup, as well as placing second in the Braehead Open and Dumfries Challenger events.
They also saw off Team Karina Aitken to qualify for next week’s World Junior-B Championships, where their aim is clear: get Scotland back up to the top table after relegation last year.
QUEENS OF SWEDEN: Outside of Scottish curling, it’s been an intriguing season so far, perhaps most marked by the emergence of Team Hasselborg of Sweden.
Shooting past Team Sigfridsson (so long Sweden’s dominant rink, who haven’t had a bad half season themselves to be fair), Hasselborg have won the Stockholm Ladies Cup, reached the semi-finals of two Grand Slams, and won silver at Europeans in Braehead.
We’ve also seen the impressive return of Bingyu Wang of China, the 2009 world champion, while Team Homan have struggled to find the consistency of their steamroller-style start to 2015-16 – Grand Slam titles instead going to Teams Einarson, Flaxey and Sweeting.
On the men’s side, Teams Carruthers and Jacobs have looked the most impressive aside from Team Edin, while Team Gushue have performed admirably during skip Brad’s recuperation – and ‘Team Pants’ (Thomas Ulsrud’s delightfully wacky Norwegian rink) have been far from pants in coming second at the Baden Masters and Europeans, before winning the Qinghai China International men’s title this month.
MIX IT UP: Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat continue to make waves in the mixed doubles discipline, winning their fourth Scottish Mixed Doubles title to qualify for Worlds, while excelling on the continent.
They claimed the CCT Bern Mixed Doubles title, as well as coming in as runners-up at the CCT Austrian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup.
Judith and Lee McCleary were second at the Scottish Championships, and also won the Consolation Cup at the Bern Mixed Doubles, so proved they’re very capable of keeping Aitken and Mouat on their toes as Pyeongchang 2018 draws closer.
At the 2016 World Mixed Curling Championship (four players per team as opposed to two), Cameron Bryce (skip), Katie Murray, Bobby Lammie and Sophie Jackson played brilliantly as they secured bronze medals for Scotland.
SUPER SILVER: Speaking of medals, the Scottish wheelchair curlers Aileen Neilson (skip), Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson and Angie Malone (alternate) won silver at the World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship.
In doing so, they also qualified for the 2017 World Wheelchair Curling Championship – and the 2018 Winter Olympics as Great Britain.
Curling in 2017 kicks off with the World Junior-B Championships in Sweden (January 3-9) and the Mercure Perth Masters (Jan 5-8). Enjoy!