Curling was back with a vengeance after the festive break, with Scotland hosting a top class line-up of men’s teams at the Perth Masters, while the International Bernese Ladies Cup took place in Switzerland.
The 40th edition of the Perth Masters attracted rinks from across the world (Canada, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA among the countries represented), and there was live coverage on BBC Alba as well as the Curling Champions Tour YouTube channel.
There were also eight Scottish teams involved – Teams Brewster, Brydone, MacDonald, Mouat, Murdoch, Shaw, Smith and Taylor.
In a triple knock-out format (A, B and C-Roads, with teams needing to win enough matches to make the playoffs before they’d lost three), it was the high class duo of Team Koe (Canada) and Team Ulsrud (Norway) who qualified directly via the A-Road.
Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) carried on their good form from the end of 2015 to qualify via the B-Road, beating Teams Ramsfjell 5-3, Brown 5-4 and Schwaller 6-5, losing 6-1 to Koe, then defeating Brown again 6-1 and Attinger 4-1.
Teams Brydone, MacDonald, Shaw, Smith and Taylor recorded some good wins between them, but by the time of the C-Road finals it was just Teams Brewster and Mouat left standing.
Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) had lost 7-4 to Rantamaki, beaten Stukalskiy 7-3 and lost 5-2 to Attinger in the first five draws, so needed to reel off four straight wins – and they did, against Baumann (6-5), Hoiberg (4-3), Rantamaki (5-3) and De Cruz (3-2).
Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Gregor Cannon, Bobby Lammie, Duncan Fraser) also lost twice early on – 7-3 to Hoiberg and 7-4 to Wrana – but like Brewster they produced four consecutive victories – over Sik (9-3), Taylor (5-4), Van Dorp (7-4) and Heidt (6-2).
In the quarter finals, there was an all-Scottish clash between Brewster and Murdoch – the latter coming out on top 6-1, with a two in end one and four in end six.
Mouat faced Norwegian powerhouse Ulsrud and initally held their own – it was 2-2 after four ends – but the former world champion then pulled away with a four in end five and steal of two in end six to win 8-2.
Ulsrud also dispatched Murdoch, their semi final opening with a two in end one for the Norwegians. They stole a single in end five and ran Murdoch out of stones in end eight for a 4-2 victory.
The final was played between the two A-Road qualifiers – Koe and Ulsrud – and it was 4-4 after four ends, Koe picking up a three in end three and Ulsrud a couple of twos.
It was the Canadians who clinched the title though, scoring two in end six and stealing one in end seven to win the game 7-4 and with it £6,500.
The event was a notable success, with great facilities and atmosphere, and high class curling.
The coverage on the BBC was a massive boost and although it would have been good to see more Scottish teams featured in live games – MacDonald, Mouat and Smith missed out, for example – those that were shown reflected the truly international flavour of the event, and it will hopefully be a precedent for curling coverage in Scotland.
All the commentators brought extra enjoyment to the event – personally I found David Hay to be particularly excellent, both engaging and insightful.
Four Scottish rinks took part in the International Bernese Ladies Cup – Teams G. Aitken, Fleming, Gray and Muirhead.
Like the Perth Masters, this was a triple knock-out competition, and Team Aitken (Gina Aitken, Rowena Kerr, Laura Ritchie, Heather Morton) lost their opening three games to drop into the Consolation Cup – there they beat Regza 7-4 but then lost their next match 6-3 to Hegner.
Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Lorna Vevers, Alice Spence, Abi Brown) won their first couple of matches, 8-1 against Schöpp and 8-6 against Sigfridsson, but dropped to the B-Road after a 6-3 loss to Sidorova.
There – after beating Nielsen 6-5 – they met Team Gray (Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds, Vicky Wright, Mhairi Baird), who had previously lost 5-2 to Jäggi but then beaten Regza 4-1, Fujisawa 7-4 and Barbezat 6-4.
Fleming came out on top of the all-Scottish tie, stealing at the last to win 6-5 – and Gray were then eliminated after a 5-3 loss to Feltscher. That meant the Consolation Cup, where they beat Maillard 9-7 but lost 8-1 to Hasselborg.
Meanwhile Fleming were beaten 6-5 by Ogasawara to fall again onto the C-Road and looked to be heading out when they went 6-2 down to Östlund, only for a remarkable comeback which saw them steal three in end eight to win 8-6 and make the quarter finals.
Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) suffered a surprising loss to Stern in their opening game, 9-4, but bounced back by beating Dupont 7-2, Sigfridsson 8-1, Feltscher 9-5 and Hasselborg 10-6.
They then had a narrow defeat to Kim, 8-7, but secured a playoff spot after victory over Barbezat, 5-3.
In the quarter finals, Fleming were beaten 6-4 by Kim, while Muirhead were involved in a tight match – and repeat of the 2015 European Championship women’s final – against Sidorova, only to come out on the wrong side of a 5-4 scoreline.
The event was won by Swiss rink Tirinzoni, who saw off Sigfridsson (who had surprisingly beaten Sidorova in the semis) in the final, 5-3.
Fleming can reflect favourably on their run to the last eight after a tough opening half of the season, while for Muirhead it was a bit of a disappointment, but they did well given their skip was suffering a nasty cold (!) and it was good match practice before their trip to Las Vegas as part of Team World for the Continental Cup.
Across the Atlantic, the TSN Skins events saw three days of play involving the cream of Canada’s curling crop.
In the women’s competition, Sweeting defeated Homan via a draw to the button and Jones saw off Rocque – Jones then beat Sweeting in the final to win $54,000 in total.
As for the men, Gushue beat Simmons and Jacobs defeated McEwen. Jacobs ran out overall champions and pocketed $71,000 overall.
For in-depth coverage of the All-Star Skins, check out Twine-Time’s very entertaining blog posts here.