Time to take a break

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GOLD: European champions Team Mouat. Pic: Richard Gray/WCF

Curlers no longer retire; they ‘step back from competitive curling’.

So in the manner of that tradition, it’s time for me to ‘step back’ from curling blogging.

Work and personal commitments mean that I no longer have the time to dedicate a weekly blog and the social media that comes with it.

What a week to go out on though, eh?

Team Mouat have become European champions in their first European Championships – beating Team Edin of Sweden 9-5 in the final.

This is a remarkable achievement by Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan – putting Scotland right at the heart of the elite men’s picture once again.

Team Muirhead were edged out of the play-off places in the women’s competition, as defeats to the Czech Republic and Latvia proved costly, ahead of an extra-end loss to eventual silver medallists Switzerland.

But with a new team line-up for this season, and their skip just back from surgery, I’m sure this is just the start for them.

There was success for another Team Muirhead, though, as Glen Muirhead (plus Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead and Cammy Smith) beat fellow Scots Team Paterson 5-4 (after an extra end) in the final of the Ashley HomeStore Classic in Penticton, Canada, for their first title as a new rink.

It was reporting on Kyle Smith and Hannah Fleming’s World University Games rinks which got me hooked on curling, before I went to watch the Scottish Championships in 2014.

The blog followed, and I am grateful to all the curlers who gave up their time to speak to me, and everyone else who helped along the way.

Since I started this blog, curling as a sport has really embraced new technology – be it social media, YouTube streaming or video features – as a way to communicate with fans and attract new ones to watch its events on TV or live in arenas.

Scottish Curling/British Curling and the World Curling Federation are doing a great job of promoting the sport, whether that’s to potential fans or even future European Championship winners.

And with podcasts regularly popping up – 2 Girls and a Game, From The Hack and Rocks Across the Pond to name but three – coverage of the game is getting better all the time.

I will always remain a fan of the roaring game, and who knows what the future may bring?

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Curling season preview 2018/19

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CONTINUITY: Team Mouat – one of few constants in Scottish Curling for this season, so it would seem! Pic: British Curling

Curling’s back! Not that it’s been a quiet summer…

In terms of Scottish teams, Team Mouat – so successful last season – are one of few constants.

There are now two Team Muirheads – though Eve Muirhead will not be skipping her rink at the start of the season, as she recovers from surgery, while Anna Sloan has stepped back from competitive curling… and Vicki Adams is now Vicki Chalmers after getting married.

Jennifer Dodds and Vicky Wright have moved over from what was Team Fleming, to form a five-strong rink for this season.

And the other Team Muirhead? Skipped by Glen Muirhead alongside his brother Thomas, and joined by another two brothers – Kyle and Cammy Smith.

Teams Jackson and Paterson round out the British Curling performance (i.e. funded) teams, with three mixed doubles pairings also on the performance programme.

They are Gina Aitken and Scott Andrews (Bruce Mouat focusing on the four-person game for now), Jayne Stirling and Fraser Kingan, and – interestingly enough – an English pair, siblings Anna and Ben Fowler.

There’s a new event to look forward to this season – the Curling World Cup, made up of three legs and a grand final, to go alongside the usual World Curling Federation, World Curling Tour, Scottish Curling Tour and Grand Slam of Curling events.

You can see a calendar of the major events this season – both in Scotland and overseas – here.

Beyond our shores, the game as a whole has changed too, with the WCF implementing the five-rock rule, designed to keep more stones in play.

It could be something of a transitional season for curling, and many of the Scottish teams – but it’s bound to be an exciting one.

Already we’ve had the Baden Masters in Basel – which saw Team Mouat scrape into the playoffs with a W2 L2 record, only to lose 6-3 to eventual champions Team Ulsrud (#teampants continue!) in the quarter-finals.

Further afield, Jayne Stirling and Fraser Kingan did brilliantly in their first mixed doubles event of the season, at the Winter Games in New Zealand.

They won five out of six matches in the group stage, then beat New Zealand and Norway to make the final against Canada.

Olympic champions Jennifer Jones and Brett Laing proved too strong, winning 9-5, but winning silver medals is a very, very encouraging way to start the season.

Three more Scottish teams – Jackson, Paterson and Whyte – are over in Canada for the Oakville Fall Classic, which is ongoing; follow the latest scores here.

No rest for the wicked

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Could Team Fleming upset Olympians Team Muirhead at this weekend’s World Championship Playoff? Photo: Graeme Hart/Perthshire Picture Agency

They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and there’s certainly none for Team GB’s Olympic curlers, as they fight for the right to represent Scotland at this year’s World Championships.

Teams Muirhead and Smith finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, and while that’s a disappointing contrast to Sochi 2014, it’s hard to be critical in what were remarkably open fields at the competition.

Team Smith did well to overcome the likes of Switzerland and Norway as they gave themselves a great chance of making the semi-finals; their losses came against Canada (no shame there), Sweden (the Edin machine), Korea (OK, that was a bad one) and the USA – who jumped aboard a winning train that took them all the way to a shock gold.

They were in a good position against the Swiss in the tiebreaker, too, but crucially gave Benoit Schwarz a chance to score five… an outside chance, but one that he took to win the game.

For a young team, and one still pretty inexperienced at the top level of curling, this was a good first outing at the Olympics; there were some missed opportunities, sure, but Team Smith represented GB and Scotland very well indeed.

Team Muirhead did make the semi-finals on the women’s side, of course, despite a rocky round robin that included an off-colour loss to the USA and an apparent equipment malfunction in their defeat to Sweden.

The Swedes were the best team out there, as they proved by winning gold, and ultimately they outplayed the Muirhead rink in the last four.

Clearly deflated after seeing their hopes of gold snuffed out, GB did not look themselves against Japan in the bronze medal match, and one could hardly begrudge the ever-smiling Fujisawa team their place on the podium.

There’s little time for reflection, though, as both Smith and Muirhead return to competitive action this weekend.

While they were away in South Korea, the Scottish Championships took place in Perth.

Team Mouat steamrollered the men’s field, winning nine from nine in the round robin, then the 1v2 page playoff against Team Drummond (8-3), before turning it up to 11 (straight wins) by beating Drummond again in the final, 7-5 this time.

Team Fleming had a bumpier ride in the women’s event, as they won their first five round robin matches but then lost their last three.

Still they beat Team Jackson 9-7 in the 1v2 game, and managed to sneak past them again in the final, 7-6 after an extra end, to finally claim that coveted Championship title.

So this weekend, March 3-4, brings the World Championship Playoff, again at the Dewars Centre in Perth, pitting Mouat against Smith and Fleming versus Muirhead.

Scottish Curling has confirmed that the event will go ahead, despite the chaotic weather conditions, and added that BBC Scotland will have live coverage of the event – hopefully benefitting from a post-Olympics bounce.

Hopefully we will be treated to some close matches in the best of three contests; Mouat’s season has been excellent, while Fleming have made steps towards closing the gap to Muirhead this campaign.

If I had to predict the winners now, I’d have to say Mouat and Muirhead… but we will have to wait and see!

The schedule is as follows:
Saturday: Men’s Draw 1 – 2pm; Women’s Draw 1 – 6pm
Sunday: Men’s Draw 2 – 10am; Women’s Draw 2 – 2pm; Men & Women’s Draw 3 (if required) – 6.30pm

***

Of course that’s not it for curling this weekend, not even in Scotland… for Aberdeen hosts the World Junior Curling Championships!

Scotland is represented by Team Whyte (men’s) and Team Morrison (women’s), and here’s hoping that they can continue the Scots’ fine recent record in this competition.

The event kicks off tomorrow at 9am, running through to March 10, and you can follow all the latest scores here.

Several matches can be watched live via World Curling TV, and BBC Sport Scotland will again have some coverage from Aberdeen.

Team Smith finish runners-up at German Masters – again!

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Team Smith came in second at the German Masters in Hamburg this week. Photo: Graeme Hart/Perthshire Picture Agency/British Curling

Teams Muirhead and Smith played their final competitions before the Winter Olympics next month, with both reaching the knockout stages.

The Muirhead rink (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer) were one of seven Scottish teams – the others being Bryce, Fleming, Hamilton, K Jackson, Morrison and Wilson – to compete at the Glynhill Ladies International in Glasgow.

Only Muirhead and Fleming made it out of the group stages, and they faced each other in the quarter-finals.

It was a close-run thing that went all the way to an extra end, but Muirhead took their one with hammer to win 5-4.

They were stunned in the semi-finals, though, giving up four in the fifth end as they lost 8-1 to Team Feltscher of Switzerland – who went on to win the final 7-4 against compatriots Team Stern.

As for Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith, Glen Muirhead), they were looking to go one better than last year at the German Masters in Hamburg, having been runners-up in 2017.

Joined by Teams Brewster, Bryce and Drummond, only Smith and Drummond made it to the knockout stages, where Smith beat Hess 7-2 to make the last four, but Drummond lost 6-1 to Pfister of Switzerland.

A 6-1 victory over Baumann sent Smith into the final, where they faced the Swiss Pfister rink, and led 2-0 before giving up three in the sixth end.

Skip Kyle Smith had a tough double takeout chance to win the game in the eighth end, but could only score one, and Pfister took one in the extra end to clinch it 4-3.

Still, these were promising performances for both Muirhead and Smith ahead of the Games in South Korea; fingers crossed for more of the same on the biggest stage of all.

***

Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan) were looking for a second straight Grand Slam of Curling title (!), after their success at the Boost National in November.

This week saw them take part in the Meridian Canadian Open in Camrose, Alberta, and they began with a superb 6-4 over Team Koe.

A loss to Gunnlaugson followed, and although they bounced back with a win over Shuster, defeats to McEwen and Edin saw the Mouat rink eliminated.

The men’s title went to Team De Cruz of Switzerland, after they beat Team Edin 5-3 in the final, while Team Carey won the women’s final 10-5 against Team Englot.

***

Unsurprisingly, things now quieten down ahead of the Olympics, but this week does see the Johnston Carmichael Scottish Curling Junior Championships take place at Curl Aberdeen.

There are eight men’s and nine women’s teams involved, with Teams Kinnear and Whyte looking like favourites on the men’s side, and Teams S Jackson and Morrison on the women’s.

You can follow the scores from the event, running from today (January 23) until Sunday (January 28), here.

Final preparations for the Olympic Games

 

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Team GB’s curlers for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Pic: British Curling/Alan Peebles Photography

 

This weekend marks the final preparations for Team GB’s representatives at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, with Team Smith in action at the German Masters and Team Muirhead involved in the Glynhill Ladies International.

Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith, Glen Muirhead) are one of four Scottish rinks in Hamburg for the German Masters, as they are joined by the teams of Tom Brewster, Cameron Bryce and Greg Drummond.

Other rinks involved include Teams Baumann, Retornaz, Van Dorp and Walstad.

A fifth Scottish rink, Team Mouat, are out in Camrose, Alberta, for the Meridian Canadian Open, the latest Grand Slam of Curling event.

Mouat won the last Grand Slam – the Boost National in November – and they’ve started this event with a 6-4 win over Team Koe (Canada’s Olympic men’s team) and 6-4 loss to Team Gunnlaugson.

As for the women, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer) are on home soil for the Glynhill Ladies International.

They made the quarter-finals of the International Bernese Ladies Cup, before going out to Team Wang of China, who went on to win the event.

Team Fleming clinched the Consolation prize at the same event, beating Team Jentsch of Germany in the final, and they are also at the Glynhill competition.

The other Scottish participants are the rinks led by Amy Bryce, Claire Hamilton, Katie Jackson, Rebecca Morrison and Maggie Wilson, while a strong international field includes Teams Feltscher, Moiseeva, Sidorova and Wang.

And… just a reminder that the Winter Olympics run from February 9-25!

Scottish teams end 2017 in style

 

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FOCUS: Another title for Bruce Mouat and his team! Pic: British Curling/Graeme Hart

 

A successful first half of the 2017-18 season for Scottish curling teams ended in a most fitting way, with Team Mouat picking up yet another title, in Dumfries.

There was more good news from overseas, as Teams Drummond, Muirhead and Smith all made the playoffs in their competitions in China and Japan.

I’ll reflect on all of those results, and do a quick review of the season so far, just in time for us to step into Christmas.

***

Nine Scottish rinks were joined by teams from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain and Switzerland for the Dumfries Challenger Series event last weekend.

There were some surprising round robin stage results, which saw Teams Brewster and Bryce make early exits after finishing W3 L2, and Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan, Euan Kyle (sub)) barely squeeze into the knockouts, also on a W3 L2 record.

The quarter-finals brought victory for Teams Schnider (7-5 versus Jungen), Hess (5-4 against Hare), Krause (6-2 over Marshall) and the last Scottish rink standing, Mouat (7-2 against Staehli).

Hess then beat Schnider 6-4 to make the final, where they were joined by Mouat, but only after they had come from 6-2 down after six ends to steal in the extra end and beat Krause 7-6.

Victory in the final was a bit more routine for Mouat, stealing one in the third end and two in the sixth to beat Hess 5-3 and clinch the title.

***

Great Britain Olympians Teams Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) and Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) travelled out to Japan to take part in the Karuizawa International.

On the men’s side, Smith topped Pool C, with four straight wins over Kasahara (8-1), Shimizuno (6-0), SooHyuk Kim (6-2) and Ogihara (7-2).

They won their quarter-final, too, 6-4 against De Cruz of Switzerland after scoring three in the fourth end and two in the sixth, but lost out in the semi-finals to Chang-Min Kim (5-4), although they did bounce back to take third place by beating Mabergs 6-4 while Morozumi took top spot.

As for Muirhead, they safely qualified second from Pool A, having beaten Natsuizaka 7-5, lost 8-4 to Un-Chi Gim, but then winning against Paetz (5-4) and Matsumura (6-2).

They could not get past Tirinzoni of Switzerland in the last eight, though, losing out 5-2, with Fujisawa going on to win the title.

***

Team Drummond (Greg Drummond, Ross Paterson, Gregor Cannon, Michael Goodfellow) enjoyed a good end to the year, too, finishing third at the Qinghai International in China.

In the group stages, they saw off teams from Canada and Russia, then China juniors, before losing to Switzerland and beating the USA, Norway, Sweden and China to make the semi-finals.

The last four brought a rematch with Rui Liu of China, and this time the local favourites claimed victory, but Drummond rebounded to beat Norway (Ulsrud) 8-5 to clinch third spot.

***

The final Asham Under-21 Slam of the season also took place, in the form of the Lockerbie Junior International.

Eight men’s teams and 10 women’s rinks took part, with Sections A and B on both sides of the competition.

The men’s semi-finals saw Team Kinnear score fours in ends five and six to beat Craik 9-2, and Team Denmark defeat Baird 7-4.

As for the women, the last four brought victory for Team Denmark (7-4 over Bremane of Latvia) and Team Davie (4-3 against Bryce).

So both men’s and women’s finals pitted a Danish team against a Scottish one, and in each the Scots came out on top – Kinnear (Callum Kinnear, Duncan McFadzean, Ryan McCormack, Matthew McKenzie) winning 6-3, and Davie (Lisa Davie, Kirsty Barr, Anna Skuse, Emma Barr) victors by a 6-5 score.

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Weekend at the final U21 slam event of the year at Lockerbie. We finished the group stages on a 2 win and 1 loss record and squeaked into top spot of the section. We played the Semi this morning against Team Kinnear. A good close game but a loose end left the game in their hands. A similar story in the 3V4 VS Team Baird meaning it was a 4th place finish for us. However the points collected this weekend was enough for us to now be the Asham U21 slam winners!!! This is a massive achievement for us and has smashed all targets we set at the start of the season! Massive thanks to all our sponsors @foxglide @fitbituk_ireland @ziyeninc @forfarindoorsports Next up for us is our last comp of 2017 the 4th leg of the Scottish U17s held in forfar. He hope everyone has a fab Christmas! 🎄

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The overall Under-21 Slam titles go to Craik (men’s) and Davie (women’s), and there’s now just a month to go until the Scottish Junior Championships in Aberdeen.

***

So that’s the last of the curling before Christmas – it’ll return on December 28-29 (the Asham Under-17 Slam in Forfar) and then January 4-7 (the Perth Masters).

Until then, a moment for reflection. With the Winter Olympics less than 50 days away, Scottish/British curling couldn’t really have asked for a better first half to the season.

The European Championships in St Gallen, Switzerland, in November were a triumph for Scotland, with Team Muirhead taking gold and Team Smith silver.

If they can distill those winning ingredients again in Pyeongchang, there’s no reason why they can’t medal again on the Olympic stage.

Team Mouat have also been outstanding, especially given their new line-up. Things were already going pretty well, with two titles in two weeks in September (the Oakville Tankard and Oakville Fall Classic), but that was nothing compared to the National in Sault Ste Marie in November.

On their way to winning that Grand Slam – the first ever by a Scottish men’s rink, with Bruce Mouat the youngest skip to win one – they defeated the cream of Canadian men’s curling: Jacobs, Koe and McEwen!

Mouat team member Grant Hardie also skipped Scotland to the World Mixed Championship title, while there was overseas success aplenty for Teams Bryce, Drummond, Fleming, Jackson, Morrison…

These are just the headlines in what has been a frantic, but fantastic, start to the season.

Let’s hope it continues into 2018, but until then… have a Merry Christmas!

Team Mouat make Grand Slam history in Sault Sainte Marie

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CHAMPIONS: Team Mouat (photo: Alan Hannah/British Curling)

Team Mouat made curling history this weekend, becoming the first Scottish men’s rink to win a Grand Slam title, with Bruce Mouat the youngest ever skip to win a GSOC event.

They triumphed at the Boost National in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, seeing off Canada’s best before beating Team Chang-Min Kim of South Korea in the final.

But first, a quick update on Scotland’s teams at the 2017 European Curling Championships…

Muirhead and Smith well positioned

We are three days into the 2017 European Curling Championships in St Gallen, Switzerland, and both Scottish teams hold W4 L1 records in the round robin stage.

On the men’s side, Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith, Glen Muirhead) have made a far better start than their previous campaign in Esbjerg in 2015, winning their first three – beating Italy (7-3), Austria (7-3) and Russia (5-3).

A blip followed, as they lost 6-4 to Germany, but Monday afternoon saw them bounce back in style, by beating Slovakia 8-1.

As for the women, Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer) faced a tough first couple of games – losing 5-2 to Sweden but beating Russia 8-7 (after an extra end).

Their next three games were more comfortable, as they overcame Denmark 6-1, Italy 8-1 and Germany 8-5.

Mouat’s moment of history

Now to events over the Atlantic, and the Boost National in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario – which featured Teams Drummond (Greg Drummond, Ross Paterson, Gregory Cannon, Michael Goodfellow) and Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie, Hammy McMillan).

Drummond exited without winning a match, losing to Teams Koe (7-3), Jacobs (9-2), Lyburn (8-7) and Gunnlaugson (10-7).

By contrast, Mouat – who’d already had an amazing season, with back-to-back wins at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard and Biosteel Oakville Fall Classic, and Grant Hardie winning the World Mixed Curling Championships – were in it for the long haul.

They only just squeezed through from the round robin, though, having won two – against Balsdon (8-4) and Morris (8-2) – and lost two – against Gushue (7-6) and McEwen (7-2).

That meant a tiebreaker with Olympic champions Team Jacobs, and threes in ends one and five helped them to an 8-5 victory.

Another three (in end four), plus steals in ends one, two, five and six, helped them ease past Team Koe 7-1 in the quarter-finals, setting up a rematch with McEwen.

This time it was Mouat who triumphed, with two in the first end, three in the fourth and a steal in the fifth firing them to a 6-4 win – meaning they were only the second Scottish men’s rink to make a Grand Slam final after Team Smith at the Tour Challenge last season.

As the top Canadian teams fell by the wayside, a Mouat v Chang-Min Kim final was a surprising one, and the Scots began it with a steal of one.

Kim scored two and then stole, only for Mouat to hit back with three in the fourth end, and a steal in the fifth and score of four in the seventh wrapped up a brilliant 9-4 win to claim the historic title.

Team Mouat said: “It’s been one hell of a week.

“The final was closer than the score suggests but we managed to take control after a few missed shots from myself in the second and third ends with a big three in the fourth.

“It’s unbelievable to think we are the first Scottish men’s team to win a Slam.

“I am so proud of our effort this week and the fact that we never doubted ourselves when we were playing the top teams in the game.”

The women’s title went to Team Jones, who beat Team Scheidegger 8-7 in the final.

Bryce and Fleming make their mark

Not to be outdone, Teams Bryce and Fleming have also put together strong runs in Canadian competition.

Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Ross Whyte, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle) competed in the DEKALB Superspiel in Morris, Manitoba.

Their first match brought a loss, 7-6 to Team Jordan Smith, but having dropped to the B-Road they reeled off four straight wins to make the playoffs – beating Teams Friesen (7-0), Schwaller (6-5), Bohn (7-1) and Forrester (7-4).

The quarter-finals proved the end of the line though, as Schwaller of Switzerland got their revenge with a 6-5 victory after an extra end.

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright) have been in Alberta, for the Red Deer Curling Classic – and they took the shortest possible route to the quarter-finals, winning their three matches on the A-Road against Teams Marthaller (7-2), Brown (7-6) and Gushulak (5-4).

The last eight brought a clash with Team Moiseeva of Russia, and steals in ends seven and eight gave the Scots a 5-3 win.

They faced Team Fujisawa of Japan in the semi-finals, and that was where their run ended – with their opponents winning 7-5 after an extra end.

McClearys make the quarters

In a very, very busy weekend, we also had the Mixed Doubles Bern tournament in Switzerland, with Judith and Lee McCleary representing Scotland.

They made the playoffs with a W5 L2 record, having overcome Teams Iseli (11-1), Wendel (10-2), Stolt (6-4), Srnska (9-5) and Kasner (9-8) – the losses being to Mei (8-2) and Moskaleva (9-2).

Jaeggi/Michel ended their challenge, though, winning their last-eight encounter 8-2.

Also at the tournament, Anna Fowler of England paired with Thomas Jaeggi, and they won three and lost four to go out in the quarter-finals of the consolation event.

…And finally, the latest Asham Under-14 Slam took place at Curl Aberdeen, with Team Carson (Orrin Carson, Logan Carson, Archie Hyslop, Charlie Gibb) winning the high road final by beating Braehead Rockers 7-0.