European Playdowns: Teams Muirhead and Smith heading to Denmark

Team Muirhead went unbeaten as they qualified for the European Curling Championships in Esbjerg next month – and they will be joined in Denmark by Team Smith, who recovered from a poor start to win six straight games and book their own European spot.

The European Playdowns, held at the Dewars Centre in Perth, involved four men’s and three women’s teams, each playing double round robin matches for a place in the best-of-three finals.

Despite the loss of lead Sarah Reid to injury, Team Muirhead won all of their round robin matches to reach the women’s final.

Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan and Vicki Adams were joined by Rachel Hannen for the event, and they very nearly lost their first match playing together.

Going into the last end of their first game versus Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown) 6-5 down and without hammer, they managed to steal two points to win the game 7-6.

They then defeated Team Gray (Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds, Vicky Wright, Mhairi Baird) 6-5, before seeing off Fleming again 8-3 and Gray 11-1.

Gray won their first meeting with Fleming 7-6, but Fleming took the second 10-7, which meant a tiebreaker was needed to decide who would play Muirhead in the final. With a three in end five and twos in ends one, three and eight, it was Gray who won it 10-4.

The women’s final (Muirhead having a one-game start) saw Muirhead lead 5-2 after six ends, only for Gray to hit back with twos in ends seven and nine to level it up at 6-6. Muirhead had hammer in the decisive 10th end, though, and scored the one needed to win the final and qualify for Esbjerg.

The men’s double round robin saw Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) sprint out of the blocks, as they won their first three matches.

By contrast, Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) lost their first two games, leaving them behind Brewster and also Teams MacDonald (Ewan MacDonald, David Edwards, Ruairidh Greenwood, Euan Byers) and Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow).

The turning point for Smith was a Thursday evening game with MacDonald (which you can watch here) – a three in end six and twos in ends one and eight vital in an 8-4 win over the reigning Scottish champions.

Brewster lost both of their Friday games to Smith (8-5) and Murdoch (5-2), but then beat MacDonald 6-5 to claim a place in the final on a W4 L2 round robin record.

With MacDonald having fallen away to W1 L5, that left Murdoch and Smith in a straight shoot-out to make the final. And it was Smith who won that match, their fourth in a row, 8-3.

The first leg of the Brewster-Smith final went to an extra end, Brewster tying it up 6-6 in the 10th. That gave Smith hammer advantage in the extra, and they made good on that, scoring the one required for a 7-6 win.

And Smith wrapped up the final and European qualification with a 4-3 second-leg win, taking hammer into the 10th end and scoring the necessary one.

Teams Muirhead and Smith can now look ahead to representing Scotland at the European Curling Championships in Esbjerg from November 20-28.

See a photo gallery from the qualifiers in Perth here.

European Playdowns: Preview

Today sees the start of the qualifying showdown for the European Curling Championships, as four men’s and three women’s teams battle for the right to represent Scotland in Esbjerg, Denmark, next month.

Which teams are competing in Perth this week, and who stands the best chance of emerging victorious? Well, let The Roaring Game Blog be your guide to the European Playdowns.

Men’s competition
Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan)
The Brewster rink have gained experience aplenty on the Curling Champions Tour and World Curling Tour, this setting them up well for a shot at the main international stage.
In last season’s European Playdowns they were beaten by Team Edwards in a tie-breaker, and then failed to make the playoff spots at the Scottish Championship.
They nearly got this season off to a dream start, reaching the final of the Baden Masters in August, only to lose to Team Edin of Sweden. However, from there, results have been on something of a slide downwards – semi finalists in the first Grand Slam of Curling event of the season, the Tour Challenge (tier 2), quarter finalists at the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out, and going out with a W1 L3 record at the Swiss Cup Basel earlier this month.
Given the team’s quality and Tom Brewster’s experience in the big games, though, you’d be wrong to rule them out of having a good week here.

Team MacDonald (Ewan MacDonald, David Edwards, Ruairidh Greenwood, Euan Byers)
A team packed with European and World Championship nous, reigning Scottish champion Ewan MacDonald has added David Edwards, Scotland’s skip at last year’s Europeans, to his World Championship rink from last year.
Last season’s European Playdowns saw Team MacDonald finish bottom of the pile on a W2 L4 record from the double round robin, only to pip Murdoch to the national title in February, going on to finish joint 10th at the Worlds in Halifax.
There hasn’t been a great deal of competitive ice time for these boys yet this season. In the first Scottish Curling Tour event, the Braehead Open, they reached the final, but lost 6-5 to Team Hardie.
With all of their rivals in Perth playing tournaments on the continent and in Canada before these playdowns, Team MacDonald are underdogs. But what pedigree they have – and you’d just be silly to dismiss a rink skipped by the 2014 and ’15 Scottish champion.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow)
These have been tough times for GB’s Sochi Olympians, as last season they were outshone by Team Brewster in Curling Champions Tour events and they reached the finals of the qualifiers for Europeans and Worlds, only to be foiled by Teams Edwards and MacDonald respectively.
Their limit this season has been the quarter finals – reaching that stage at the Baden Masters, Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and Shorty Jenkins Classic. They finished the Tour Challenge tier 1 event on a W1 L3 record, and then their most recent competition, the Swiss Cup Basel, on W2 L3.
Time for a change in fortunes? They’re a solid unit, honed through training and competition time together, and Murdoch is always capable of the big shots when needed.

Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith)
Having built up their experience at the World University Games and junior tour events, Team Smith are ready to challenge the heavyweights.
They did not compete at last year’s European playdowns, and they narrowly missed out on earning a tiebreaker for a playoff spot at the 2015 Scottish Championships.
This season, with the return of Thomas Muirhead to the rink, they have been on fine form at the big events. Like Team Brewster, they reached the Tour Challenge tier 2 semis and the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out quarters. Then, at the Swiss Cup Basel, they defeated Team Ulsrud of Norway en route to the semi finals, where they lost to eventual winners Team Gushue, the Canadians hoovering up titles everywhere at the moment.
So Team Smith look to be the most in-form Scottish men’s team going into these playdowns. In what appears to be an incredibly open competition, that form could well carry them to the final. Qualification? Perhaps just a step too far, for now.

Women’s competition

Team Fleming
Team Fleming

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown)
Hannah Fleming’s rink are showing the signs of having a very positive season, and probably their best chance of really challenging Team Muirhead.
Last season they finished bottom of the women’s European qualification standings behind Teams Muirhead and Gray, but in February they reached the Scottish Championship final, only to lose 6-5 to Team Muirhead… their fourth defeat to Eve’s rink of that competition.
The opening months of the 2015-16 season have seen them win three and lose three at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, lose all four games at the Stockholm Ladies Cup (caveat: they nearly beat Olympic champions Team Jones) and then reach the Women’s Master’s Basel quarter finals this past weekend, having beaten Team Nielsen of Denmark (fourth at the 2014 Europeans) on the way, only to lose to the eventual runners-up Team Tirinzoni.
Could they make it to Esbjerg? Of course. Naturally they will focus on their own game and playing to their maximum, but a lot too also depends on how Team Muirhead perform (see below). Qualification is certainly possible, but it’s still an outside chance.

Team Gray (Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds, Vicky Wright, Mhairi Baird)
Team Muirhead’s closest challengers at last season’s European playdowns, Team Gray made the best-of-three final but lost to Eve and co 9-1 and 5-3. They then failed to reach the Scottish Championship playoffs with a W4 L6 record.
This season has seen them compete at the Shorty Jenkins Class (W1 L4) and the Stockholm Ladies Cup – where, like Team Fleming, they lost all four games (caveat: they nearly beat world champions Team Pätz).
It looks to be an uphill struggle for Team Gray to again make the final in Perth, never mind qualify. They’re going to need to find the form that took them one end away from victory over Pätz, and this time finish the job.

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Rachel Hannen)
It’s very generous of Team Muirhead to inject some extra intrigue into this women’s competition. Their lead Sarah Reid picked up an injury in Basel last week, leading to this tweet:

The fact is, Team Muirhead are well rehearsed in qualifying for these events – they’ve competed and medalled at every European Championships since 2010. They cruised through the playdowns last season, although they were given a tougher test at the Scottish Championships, losing twice in the pool stage before edging past Team Fleming in the final.
Their first three competitions of this season have seen them reach the Tour Challenge quarter finals (beaten by eventual runners-up Team Homan), the Stockholm Ladies Cup final (beaten by Team Homan again) and then the Women’s Masters Basel semi finals (beaten by eventual winners Team Sidorova).
Organising committee member Janine Greiner subbed in for them in Basel, and Rachel Hannen comes in for this week. It’s near impossible to describe a team containing Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan and Eve Muirhead as vulnerable, but losing their regular lead is certainly a blow – although probably not enough to prevent them going on to compete for yet another European medal.

Event format
Like last year, the competition will be played in a double round robin format (i.e. each men’s and woman’s team playing their male and female rivals twice), with the matches (up to 10 ends) deciding which teams make it into the best-of-three finals.

The event gets under way tonight at 7pm, with Brewster v Smith and MacDonald v Murdoch in the men’s competition and Fleming v Muirhead in the women’s – see the full draw here, with live scores appearing here.

Stockholm Ladies Curling Cup: Team Muirhead take second spot

Team Muirhead defeated both 2015 Women’s World Championship finalists on their way to the Stockholm Ladies Curling Cup final, where they were beaten by the in-form and firing Team Homan of Canada.

Muirhead’s runners-up spot brought with it prize money of 60,000 Swedish Krona (around £4,700) and indicated that they are steadily building into the season, having made the quarter finals of the first Grand Slam of Curling event of 2015-16 earlier in the month.

The team (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) were one of three Scottish rinks to participate in the Curling Champions Tour event.

However, neither Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown) nor Team Gray (Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds, Vicki Wright, Mhairi Baird) were able to win a match – despite coming close to a couple of notable upsets.

Team Fleming were drawn in a group with Olympic champions Team Jones of Canada, Team Sidorova of Russia, Team Jäggi from Switzerland and Team Kauste of Finland.

Their first match was against Sidorova, and they had a disastrous start, going 6-0 down after just three ends – and they were unable to recover, eventually losing 7-4.

They were then beaten 9-4 by Team Jäggi, before facing Team Jones.

The Scots came so close to pulling off a major surprise, taking a 6-3 lead into the eighth end, but a four for Jones at the death saw the 2015 Women’s World Championship silver medallists escape with a 7-6 win.

Team Fleming then lost 6-4 to Team Kauste, meaning that despite some positive performances they finished the competition on no wins and four defeats.

Team Gray’s pool contained Swiss world champions Team Pätz, Team Sigfridsson of Sweden, Team Matsumura from Japan and Team Barbezat, also of Switzerland.

Like Team Fleming, their first match saw them get off to a poor start – leaking points to Team Sigfridsson to go down 8-1 after five ends.

They performed much better against Team Pätz, matching their Swiss counterparts all the way to the eighth end, only to give up three right at the finale to lose 6-5.

However, they were unable to take momentum from giving the world champions such a scare, losing their remaining group games 8-4 to Matsumura and 5-4 to Barbezat (the latter after an extra end).

As for Team Muirhead, they were in a group alongside Team Feltscher of Switzerland, two Swedish teams – Östlund and Wranå – and Team Nielsen from Denmark.

Their opening game, against Östlund, went toe-to-toe all the way, with the Swedes going into the eighth end 6-5 up – and then stealing one to win the match 7-5.

They bounced back with a 9-3 win over Team Nielsen – sealed by a steal of four in end seven – and then defeated Team Feltscher 8-5.

A 6-4 win over Team Wranå saw them safely into the quarter finals with a P4 W3 L1 record.

There they came up against Team Pätz, and took the Swiss rink down 8-0, stealing two in end three and another five in end four.

In the semi finals, another five-ender put Team Muirhead 7-2 up on Team Jones, and they saw out the victory in a very high-scoring match, 11-7.

So the title decider was fought out between Team Muirhead and the rink which beat them in the Tour Challenge quarter finals, Team Homan.

The Canadians got into the swing of things quicker than their opponents, stealing singles in ends one and two, but Team Muirhead got back on track with a three in end three.

Team Homan took a 4-3 lead at the half-way mark and then stole two further singles to stretch their lead to 6-3.

That was too much for the Scots to make up, the final score being 7-5 – highlights of the match here.

It was, however, a very solid weekend’s competition for Team Muirhead – who next compete in Basel from October 9.

For pictures from the competition, visit the event’s Facebook photo albums page here.

World Curling Tour round-up: Quarter finals the limit for Scottish teams

This weekend saw four Scottish teams compete in two World Curling Tour events across in Canada – Teams Brewster and Smith in the HDF Insurance Shoot-out in Edmonton, and Teams Murdoch and Gray in the AMJ Campbell Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall.

Brewster, Smith and Murdoch all qualified for the quarter finals of their respective competitions, but that was as far as they could go, the tournaments once again dominated by Canadian teams.

Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cameron Smith) started brilliantly at the HDF Insurance Shoot-out, winning three consecutive games to qualify directly for the quarter finals along the A road.

After opening with a 4-3 win over Team Webb, the Scots beat Team Sluchinski 5-4 and Team Scoffin 7-4 to book themselves a place in the last eight.

Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan), by contrast, did things the hard way.

They lost their first match to Team Sturmay, 6-5 after an extra end, but bounced back in style, cruising past Team Meachem 9-1.

A 4-3 defeat to Team Sluchinski knocked them down to the C road, where they stayed alive thanks to a 5-4 extra-end win over Team Lizmore, before a 6-3 victory over Team Hanson that saw them into the quarters.

There, both Scottish teams fell to defeat. Team Smith lost 8-4 to Team Korte, steals of two in ends seven and eight proving fatal.

Team Brewster, meanwhile, were edged out 7-6 by Team Thomas, who scored two in end eight to take the win.

The competition was eventually won by Team Meachem, who had recovered from that 9-1 loss to Team Brewster and battled through the C road, as they defeated Team Bottcher 8-4 in the final.

The women’s event was claimed by Team Sweeting, who secured a hometown victory by beating Team Lawton 6-4 in the final.

In the Shorty Jenkins Classic, Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) followed Team Smith’s example by starting with three wins.

They defeated Team Fournier 6-4, Team Fanset 6-2 and Team Brewer 7-2 – and then made it four wins in a row by beating Team Bailey 4-2.

Despite a 4-2 loss to in-form Team Gushue in their final pool match, Team Murdoch were safely into the last eight.

The quarter finals saw them pitted against Team Jacobs, the rink which had defeated them in the 2014 Olympic final in Sochi, and again the Canadians came out on top, 8-3.

The final, between Teams Gushue and Howard, went to an extra end, but it was Gushue who prevailed, 5-4.

The fourth Scottish team competing in Canada over the weekend were Team Gray (Lauren Gray, Jennifer Dodds, Vicky Wright, Mhairi Baird), in the women’s section of the Shorty Jenkins Classic.

They were beaten in their first three matches – losing to Team Birt 7-3, Team Larouche 4-3, and Team Inglis 5-3 – but then recorded a 7-6 victory over Team Hanna.

Although they then lost 7-1 to Team Middaugh and finished on a W1 L4 record, this was good early season experience for Gray’s rink ahead of the Stockholm Ladies Cup this coming weekend.

The Shorty Jenkins Classic women’s competition was won by Team Eun Jung Kim, the south Korean rink beating Team Flaxey 5-4 in the final.