Weekend round-up: GSOC Canadian Open and Scottish Mixed Doubles

Teams Muirhead and Murdoch both had solid runs in the Grand Slam of Curling Canadian Open in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, while Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken won the Scottish Curling Mixed Doubles Championship in Braehead.

The Canadian Open, rather than a round robin, had a triple knockout system (A, B and C-Roads – teams had to win three games before they lost three) leading to the playoffs.

In the men’s competitions, Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) were handed a tough opening draw, facing Olympic champions Team Jacobs.

Jacobs took a 4-2 lead after five ends, but Murdoch scored two in end six and then stole singles in ends seven and eight for the victory.

Their next opponent was local favourites Team Laycock – it was an extremely tight encounter that was 4-4 going into an extra end, but crucially Murdoch had hammer in the extra and scored one to win 5-4.

That win put them one game away from the playoffs – in their way, Team Gushue.

Gushue held a 5-2 lead into end eight but Murdoch managed to score three to force an extra – the Canadian rink, though, scored two to win the game 7-5 and reach the last eight.

Murdoch were not waiting long to join them however, thanks to a win in their next game against the young Canadians of Team Bottcher.

Bottcher lead 3-2 after four ends, but twos for Murdoch in ends five and eight meant a 6-5 victory and wrapped up a playoff spot.

Also making the playoffs were Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid), who recorded a similar W3 L1 record on the women’s side of the event.

They began with a 5-4 win over Team Carey, scoring twos in ends three and five, before stealing one in end six to put the game out of Carey’s reach.

Their next result was a loss, however, as they were outgunned by world champions Team Pätz of Switzerland.

The Swiss rink scored three in end two, stole two in end three and scored another three in end seven to win 9-3.

That meant the Scots dropped down to the B-Road, where they faced another Swiss test – but this time it was Muirhead who won with a big score.

A three in end three put them in a strong position, strengthened by two in end five and finished off by four in end seven for a 10-3 victory.

That set up a B-Road qualifier against Team Tirinzoni, the third consecutive Swiss opponent for Muirhead, and the Scots started well with a steal of two in end three.

Tirinzoni pulled the game back to 3-2, but a three in end six and a steal of one in end seven secured the win 7-2 and with it a quarter-final place.

Come the playoffs, Murdoch faced Team Carruthers and were on the back foot as early as end two, when the Canadians scored three.

The teams exhanged ones up to end seven, when Carruthers scored two for a 6-3 lead – then running Murdoch out of stones for the win.

Murdoch had fallen then, and Muirhead faced a similarly tough quarter final against Team Sweeting.

In what was a nightmare start for opposing skip Val Sweeting, the Scots took a 4-0 lead after four ends thanks to three consecutive steals of one, their opponents passing up opportunities for a couple of big ends.

Sweeting, undeterred, scored three in end five and two in end seven to bring the game back to 5-5 – but Muirhead held hammer in end eight and scored her one to win 6-5.

The semi finals pitted Muirhead against Team Jones, gold medal winners in Sochi.

The first half of the game was one of forces, each rink taking ones for a 2-2 scoreline after end four.

But Jones turned the screw after that, stealing one in end five and then twos in ends six and seven to win the game 7-2 and knock Muirhead out.

Jones started well in the women’s final against Team Homan, scoring two in end one and three in end three, but steals of one in ends five and six put Homan into a 6-5 lead.

Jones scored two in end seven but Homan replied with a two of their own in end eight to win 8-7 for their third Grand Slam title of an already extraordinary season.

The final match of the event was the men’s final, between Teams Epping and Gushue.

Both teams were unbeaten up to this point, but skip John Epping had been gaining a reputation for pulling off spectacular angle raises.

Gushue were simply overrun by their opponents, who scored twos in ends two and four courtesy of their skip making those raises look simple, before a double takeout scored three in end six – Gushue shaking hands at 7-4.

***

Back in Scotland, the Scottish Curling Mixed Doubles Championship was held in Braehead from Thursday to Sunday.

At stake, the right to represent Scotland at the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden, in April – with increased attention on the discipline following news that mixed doubles curling will be a medal event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The pair of Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken topped the round robin, with six wins and just one loss, followed by Lee McCleary/Judith McCleary and Grant Hardie/Abi Brown, both W5 L2.

There was a tiebreaker for the final semi-final spot, with John Duff/Hailey Duff coming out on top against Ross Whyte/Sophie Jackson 8-6.

In the last four, Mouat/Aitken scored three in end three and stole one in end six on their way to a 6-3 win over Duff/Duff.

Scotland’s last representatives at the World Mixed event, the McClearys, were beaten in the other semi, as Hardie/Brown scored four in end four and stole two in end seven to win 9-4.

In the final, Mouat/Aitken had the fast start, scoring twos in ends one and three and stealing two in end four for a 6-1 lead.

However, Hardie/Brown stole three in end six to put themselves right back in it at 6-5.

Mouat and Aitken, though, maintained their composure, scoring one in end seven and stealing one in end eight after Brown’s attempted raise takeout was narrowly off target.

That meant an 8-5 triumph for Mouat and Aitken, securing their place as Scotland’s representatives in Sweden in April 2016.

Bruce Mouat told British Curling afterwards: “It is very special to win a national title and to go on to represent your country at a World Championship is a great honour.

“Gina and I have not had a great amount of practice leading up to the Mixed Doubles but my rink has enjoyed good results so I knew the form was there, even though for the doubles it is different as you have more stones in play.

“Our first few games went well so that helped to have a few wins under the belt, we then had a slight dip on Saturday and in the final I missed a hit in the sixth end and left Gina in a difficult position and our opponents were able to score a three there.

“But my team has a saying which is ‘bin it’ if you miss a shot, which basically means don’t over think it and just move on. Throughout the tournament we have been consistent.”

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GSOC Masters: Preview

There are just two Scottish teams competing in the second Grand Slam of Curling event of the season – the Masters, October 27-November 1, in Truro, Nova Scotia – Team Murdoch on the men’s side and Team Muirhead on the women’s.

The Scots are among 15 men’s and 15 women’s teams divided into three groups of five, with a round robin format deciding the top eight on each side to progress to the playoffs.

Who do they face, and what are their chances? Well, read on to find out.

Team Murdoch
The rink of David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow have been handed a tough draw, facing three experienced Canadian teams and the current world champions.

David Murdoch (Photo: Anil Mungal/Grand Slam of Curling)
David Murdoch (Photo: Anil Mungal (@PhotoVagrant)/Grand Slam of Curling)

Their first match is tomorrow, against Team Howard. Four-time world champion Glenn Howard reshuffled his team for this season, bringing in Wayne Middaugh at third, moving Richard Hart to second and adding his own son Scott at lead.
The combination has worked well so far, as the team reached the quarter finals of the first Grand Slam of the season, the Tour Challenge, only to be beaten by Team Gushue, then made the finals of the Shorty Jenkins Classic (beaten by Gushue again) and Toronto Tankard (beaten by Team McEwen).
They did, however, fail to make the playoffs in their last competition, the Canad Inns Men’s Classic.

The second match comes on Thursday, against Team Epping. It has been chop and change for skip John Epping recently, and this year he plays alongside Mathew Camm, Patrick Janssen and Tim March.
The quarter finals have been their limit this season, getting to that stage at the Shorty Jenkins Classic (beaten by Gushue) and the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau last weekend, where they were beaten by Team Mouat of Scotland.
Otherwise, they failed to make the playoffs at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Tour Challenge, Point Optical Classic and Toronto Tankard.

After that, on Friday, Murdoch face Team Edin. The Swedes (Niklas Edin, Oskar Eriksson, Kristian Lindström, Christoffer Sundgren), who won the world title in Halifax in April, began their 2015-16 season by winning the Baden Masters, beating Team Brewster in the final.
Since then, they made the Oakville Tankard quarter finals (lost to Gushue), failed to make the Tour Challenge playoffs (one of their losses being to Murdoch) and then reached three quarter finals – at the Shorty Jenkins Classic (beaten by Howard), Point Optical Classic (lost to Team Jacobs) and Toronto Tankard (again beaten by Jacobs).
Most recently, they’ve gone out before the playoff stage at both the Canad Inns Men’s Classic and the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau.

And Murdoch finish off with another Friday game, this time against Team Gushue (Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker).
Gushue’s rink are undoubtedly the form team in world curling. They have picked up titles at the Oakville Tankard, Shorty Jenkins Classic, Swiss Cup Basel and, just this past weekend, the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau.
The only exceptions to the winning rule came at the Tour Challenge, where they lost the final to Team Koe, and the Toronto Tankard, where they lost in the quarter finals to McEwen.

Verdict: Can Murdoch win enough games in this group to make the playoffs? It looks a tough ask. Like Epping, their limit this season has been the quarter finals (at the Baden Masters and Oakville Tankard); they fell short of making the playoffs at the Tour Challenge, and couldn’t reach the last eight at last weekend’s Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau.
Results aren’t what the team would want them to be at the moment – and faced with form teams in Gushue and Howard, it’s going to be tricky for Murdoch to turn things round here.

Team Muirhead
Fresh from qualifying for the European Championships next month, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid – the latter returning from injury) face three Canadian teams and one Swiss in Truro.

Eve Muirhead (photo: Anil Mungal/Grand Slam of Curling)
Eve Muirhead (Photo: Anil Mungal (@PhotoVagrant)/Grand Slam of Curling)

They begin against Team Einarson tonight. The Canadians (Kerri Einarson, Selena Kaatz, Liz Fyfe, Kristin MacCuish) won their first championship together at the Tour Challenge Tier 2, claiming $9,200 and a place at the Masters.
Since then, they’ve made semi finals at the Mother Club Fall Classic (lost to eventual winners Team Montford) and Prestige Hotels & Resorts Classic (beaten by eventual winners Team Lawton), before failing to make the playoffs at the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Classic and then reaching the Canad Inns Women’s Classic quarters (lost to Englot).

Muirhead’s next opposition are Team McDonald tomorrow. This rink (Kristy McDonald, Kate Cameron, Leslie Wilson-Westcott, Raunora Westcott), formed last season, have been all about the quarter finals so far in 2015-16.
That was the stage they reached at the Tour Challenge (beaten by Team Kim), Mother Club Fall Classic (lost to Team Link) and Canad Inns Women’s Classic (beaten by eventual winners Team Kim).

Thursday evening sees Muirhead face Team Feltscher. The 2014 women’s world champions (Binia Feltscher, Irene Schori, Franziska Kaufmann, Christine Urech) have had a mixed season.
They fell short of the Tour Challenge playoffs (finishing with a W1 L3 record), then failed to make the Stockholm Ladies Cup last eight, placing third in their group behind Östlund and Muirhead.
They did then reach the Womens Masters semi finals, going out to Team Tirinzoni, and most recently were in the final of the Swiss European Championships qualifiers, only to lose out to Team Pätz.

Muirhead round off their round robin with a match on Friday morning against Team Sweeting (Val Sweeting, Lori Olson-Johns, Dana Ferguson, Rachel Brown), who won last season’s Masters and finished second at the 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
After making the quarter finals at the Oakville Tankard (lost to Pätz), Sweeting failed to get off the ground at the Tour Challenge, finishing W1 L3.
They have picked up since then, though, winning the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out and reaching the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Classic semi finals, being knocked out by Team Carey.

Verdict: On paper, Muirhead look to have a kinder draw than Murdoch. But it’s no stroll in the park either, as even the underdogs of the group, Einarson, are very capable of a shock.
Feltscher have the pedigree, McDonald a knack of reaching playoffs and Sweeting are deservedly seen as one of Canada’s top three women’s teams alongside Homan and Jones.
Nonetheless, if Muirhead’s rink maintain their focus and show the form that got them to the Stockholm Ladies Cup final and Womens Masters Basel semis, they should at least make the playoffs in Nova Scotia.

The full Masters draw schedule is here. And you can watch games live online from Thursday on Sportsnet (the link to subscribe is here).