End of season round-up

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PODIUM: Scotland women won bronze at the World Senior Curling Championships. Pic: twitter.com/jlockhart65

It’s been a packed end to the season, with the good (Team Smith’s European Masters win, bronze for Scotland women at World Seniors) mixed with the bad (Scotland/GB missing out on Olympic Mixed Doubles).

Here’s a quick round-up of how the 2016-17 season has come to its conclusion.

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Firstly to St Gallen, where the European Masters involved three Scottish men’s teams – Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan), Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) and Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith).

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Vicky Wright, Alice Spence) were the sole Scots on the women’s side, but after two wins in the opening two matches versus Teams Schöpp (6-4) and Thompson (6-5) they lost their three remaining group matches to miss out on the final.

In the men’s event, it wasn’t a great tournament for Murdoch, as they only picked up one win from seven round robin games – 7-4 against Team Walstad.

Team Brewster did rather better, with wins against Murdoch (8-2), Pfister (5-3), Walstad (10-1) and McCormick (4-2) qualifying them for the 3v4 game versus McCormick, which the Scots won 4-2.

The best performance, though, came from Team Smith, who won four of their round robin matches – against Pfister (5-4), Murdoch (7-5), Brewster (7-3) and McCormick (8-5) – to edge by Brewster to make the final.

There they faced the ever-menacing Team Edin, and Smith finally got one over on the serial Slam-winning Swedes, as two in end four and one in end eight saw them pinch it 5-4.

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The Champions Cup – for teams who have won major competitions during the season – took place in Calgary, Alberta, and involved three Scottish rinks – Teams Brewster and Hardie (Grant Hardie, Blair Fraser, David Reid, Duncan Menzies) on the men’s side, and Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) on the women’s.

Neither men’s team could progress from the round robin, with Brewster taking a win against Team Morozumi (9-3) but being beaten by Teams Laycock (5-4), McEwen (9-1) and Gushue (6-3).

Hardie, meanwhile, lost all four games – against Teams De Cruz (8-1), Carruthers (6-3), Jacobs (8-6) and Morris (6-3) – but this was undoubtedly a helpful experience for the team in a Slam environment.

The men’s title went the way of Team Jacobs, who overcame Team Koe 6-2 in the final.

Muirhead also missed out on the women’s playoffs – beating Flaxey (9-4) but losing to Pätz (7-2), Jones (7-6) and Wrana (6-2).

The women’s final was contested by Teams Homan and Hasselborg, with Homan scoring two in end eight to pinch it 5-4.

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The World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Lethbridge, Canada, saw Scotland represented by Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat.

They swept the round robin, with victories over Norway (6-3), Bulgaria (10-3), Ireland (8-5), Wales (11-2), Serbia (11-0), Denmark (8-2) and Italy (8-4).

Also in Scotland’s group, Ireland (Alison Fyfe and Neil Fyfe) won four and lost three (beating Serbia 10-2, Denmark 7-3, Bulgaria 11-4 and Wales 11-2, but losing to Italy 5-4, Scotland and Norway 10-4), with Wales (Dawn Watson and Adrian Meikle) coming in on W2 L5 (winning against Serbia 11-3 and Denmark 9-7, but defeated by Norway 6-2, Scotland, Italy 9-8, Ireland and Bulgaria).

England (Anna Fowler and Ben Fowler) just missed out on qualifying from the round robin, finishing on a W4 L3 record (beating France 8-5, Kazakhstan 17-2, Turkey 10-5 and Germany 9-6, but losing to the USA 7-2, the Czech Republic 6-4 and Canada 7-6).

The quarter-finals saw Ireland face Korea, losing 6-3, while Scotland – despite winning their group – faced Canadians Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers, and they were beaten 8-3 after giving up four in end seven.

Now scrambling to qualify for the Olympics, Aitken and Mouat faced Sweden – and scored four in end four as they beat them 9-2 – while the Irish pair lost to Russia 7-5.

It was the Russians Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii up next for Scotland, and again Aitken/Mouat lost to a very strong opponent, 6-5, as Russia scored singles in ends one, three, four, six, seven and the extra to edge a tight match.

Scotland had to beat Italy next and hope. They did that, 7-5, but Norway’s win over Finland denied them a spot at Pyeongchang 2018, with just two points in it on the ranking system.

Sport is seldom ‘fair’, and Scotland had the misfortune to face Canada and Russia after a flawless round robin.

What would seem flawed is a qualification process that places so much emphasis on a couple of games at one event, over the hard work and consistent tournament success of a Scottish duo who have spent the last four years working towards an Olympic spot, and were clearly heartbroken to fall short.

Switzerland, who went unbeaten through the championship, beat Canada 6-5 in the final to win gold, with China taking silver.

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Lethbridge also hosted the World Senior Curling Championships, with Scotland represented by Ian Drysdale, David McQueen, Ronald Wilson, Graham Lindsay and Andrew Hemming (alternate) in the men’s event.

They finished the round robin with a W3 L3 record, as they saw off Finland 6-3, England 4-2 and Russia 12-2, but were beaten by Canada (7-2), Wales (6-4) and New Zealand (5-2)).

That meant a tiebreaker against Wales (Adrian Meikle, Richard Pougher, Chris Wells, Gary Waddell, Alistair Reid (alternate)), who had also won three and lost three, and again the Welsh came out on top, 5-4 this time, to put the Scots out.

England men (Thomas Campbell, Philip Barton, Mike Spain, Alastair Fyfe) ended up on W1 L5, with Ireland men (Peter Wilson, Johnjo Kenny, Bill Gray, David Whyte, David Hume (alternate)) on W5 L2.

Wales beat Israel 8-6 to make the last eight, but there they succumbed 8-1 to Canada; Ireland, though, qualified for the quarter-finals with a 5-4 win over Denmark.

Canada proved too strong for the Irish in the semi-finals, winning 5-2, but the Irish did secure bronze with a 6-3 win over Germany in the 3v4 game, while Sweden pipped Canada to gold.

As for the women’s competition, Scotland (Jackie Lockhart, Christine Cannon, Isobel Hannen, Margaret Richardson, Janet Lindsay (alternate)) qualified from Group B with five wins (against the Czech Republic (9-2), Slovakia (15-1), Australia (9-1), Finland (7-6 after an extra end) and Switzerland (8-4)) and one loss (versus the USA (6-4)).

England women (Judith Dixon, Val Saville, Helen Forbes, Deborah Higgins) were W3 L4 for the event, with Ireland women (Carolyn Hibberd, Marie O’Kane, Louise Kerr, Clare McCormick) W1 L6.

Scotland, having finished second in their group to the USA, had to beat Russia to make the last four, which they did 10-0.

Their semi-final pitted them against Colleen Jones’ Canada, and it was the host country who emerged victorious with a two in end eight to win 5-3.

Canada took gold and Switzerland silver, and Scotland ensured they joined them on the podium by beating the USA 8-5 (scoring four in end five) in the bronze medal match.

Skip Lockhart said: “It feels really good to get a medal and to go back with something after not playing quite the ‘A’ game we wanted against Canada.

“We had to fight really hard for that. It’s been a tough week but every medal makes the season worthwhile and we’ve still got years to play in seniors, so…bring it on.”

Players’ playoff pain for Muirhead and Smith

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HAT-TRICK: Team Edin won their third Grand Slam title of the season at the Players’ Championship. Pic: twitter.com/grandslamcurl (Anil Mungal)

Both Team Muirhead and Team Smith put in strong performances at the Grand Slam of Curling Players’ Championship, exiting at the playoff stages – both to the eventual winners in Toronto.

The Muirhead rink squeezed into the last eight in the women’s competition – at an event they have won three times – but on this occasion they were beaten in the quarter-finals by Team Jones, who ultimately took victory in the final.

Kyle Smith’s quartet went one better – making it to the men’s semi-finals – but there they were undone by Team Edin, who went on to become champions.

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Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) began their run in emphatic style, scoring two in end three and four in end seven for an 8-2 victory over Team Epping.

But they were on the wrong side of that scoreline in their next match, giving up threes in ends one and five in defeat to Team Edin of Sweden.

Undeterred, they came back with an 8-3 win over Team Laycock – scoring three in end one, two in end three and two in end seven – before edging past Team Jacobs, as they took a two in the first end and then traded singles, claiming the one point needed in the eighth for a 5-4 triumph.

An 8-6 loss to Team De Cruz in their final round robin match could not deny them a spot in the quarter-finals, where they once again met Jacobs.

Smith scored three in end two and one in end four to lead 4-3 at halfway, staying in control with two in end six and one in the eighth to clinch it 7-6.

In the final four they were pitted against Edin, and again it was the Swedes who came out on top – thanks to a steal of two in end five and another two in end seven, for a 6-2 victory.

That doesn’t take away from a super run at their first Players’ Championship by the Smith rink, who have enjoyed a real breakthrough season in Grand Slam competition – and are the focus of the below video feature.

Edin went on to claim their third Grand Slam title of the season, defeating Team McEwen 5-3 in the men’s final with steals in ends seven and eight.

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Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Kelly Schafer (filling in for Lauren Gray at lead)) have some history with the Players’ Championship, having won the women’s title three times in Toronto.

They were off to a losing start this time though, as Team Sweeting scored twos in ends three and six, then took their one with hammer in the eighth, to beat the Scots 6-5.

Muirhead got back on track against Team Jones – stealing in ends one, two and three to lead 4-0, then adding three more points in ends six and seven for a 7-3 win – but that was followed by a 5-2 loss to Team Hasselborg.

They then lost 6-4 to Team Fleury – giving up critical steals in ends five and six – but eked out a quarter-final spot courtesy of victory over Team Englot, as they stole their way to a 5-0 lead after two ends and held on to take it 8-6.

The last eight brought a rematch with Jennifer Jones’ rink, and this time the Canadians nicked it 6-5.

Muirhead stole in end one but Jones claimed three in the second, only for the Scots to answer with two and a steal of one to lead 4-3 after four.

Jones, though, scored singles in ends five, six and seven – and Muirhead could only manage one in end eight, handing their opponents the win.

The Jones rink went on to win the title – their sixth! – by overcoming Sweeting 8-4 in the final.

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There is plenty more curling coming up this week, starting with the European Masters in St Gallen (April 19-22) – with Teams Brewster, Murdoch (the holders) and Smith in the men’s competition, and Team Fleming in the women’s.

Then from April 22-29 we have the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship and World Senior Curling Championship, both in Lethbridge, Canada.

Scotland are represented by Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat at the World Mixed, and by Team Drysdale (men’s) and Team Lockhart (women’s) for the World Seniors.

Muirhead and Murdoch triumph: 2017 Scottish Curling Championships round-up

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CHAMPIONS: David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

Team Murdoch won the men’s title at the Scottish Curling Championships for the first time since claiming their 2014 Winter Olympic silver medals, while Team Muirhead clinched their third women’s title in succession.

Finals day began with Team Muirhead facing Team Fleming in the women’s title decider, and a three in end five and two in end eight gave Eve Muirhead’s rink a 6-4 victory and the skip her seventh title.

Teams Mouat and Murdoch, both on six-game winning runs, collided later in the afternoon, and David Murdoch’s men were ruthless in punishing Mouat mistakes, scoring four in end three and three in the fifth to triumph 10-4.

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Scottish Curling Championships Ladies Final 25.02.17
WOMEN’S WINNERS: Lauren Gray, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan and Eve Muirhead. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Glenn Howard (coach)) went unbeaten through the tournament, with six wins in the round robin (see my review here) and victory over Team Smith in the 1v2 page playoff.

They had only just edged by Hazel Smith’s rink in the group stage, stealing two in end 10 to win 11-9, but they did a professional job on the same opponents in the playoff.

Twos in ends four and six propelled them to a 6-3 victory, putting them into the final and tipping Smith into a semi-final against Hannah Fleming’s rink.

Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Vicky Wright, Nancy Smith (coach)) had endured a tough round robin, forcing a tiebreaker by beating Team Gina Aitken in their last match.

There they saw off Team Karina Aitken 8-4, putting them into the semi with Smith.

A third consecutive victory followed, as twos in ends one and three, plus three in end six, won them the match 9-6 and booked their spot in the final.

Team Fleming made the better start to that final, maintaining their composure and preventing the Muirhead rink getting an early jump on them, as it was tied at 1-1 after four ends.

Scottish Curling Championships Ladies Final 25.02.17
RUNNERS-UP: Vicky Wright, Alice Spence, Jen Dodds and Hannah Fleming. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

But a couple of fine shots from Sloan, and loose ones from Fleming, gave Muirhead the opportunity to hit for three, which she duly made for a 4-1 lead at halfway.

Fleming took a single in end six and stole one in end seven to narrow the gap to one, but Muirhead hit back with a two in the eighth end for a 6-3 lead which always looked difficult to pull back.

So it proved, Muirhead running out 6-4 winners for a third consecutive Scottish title (seventh in all) and passage to Worlds in Beijing (March 18-26).

Afterwards, Eve Muirhead said: “I think patience was a key factor out there. Right from the off Hannah and the girls played really well, and so did we.

“We knew we had a game on our hands, we expected that, and as a team we never get ahead of ourselves or get complacent, so we stayed patient and then got that little break in the fifth end, scored the three and that gave us a little jump ahead.

Adams added: “This is what we train for, we do a lot behind the scenes, not just on the ice, and we take each game as one game, we don’t get too ahead of ourselves.

“We individualise the games, break them down into stones, single ends, making it much easier to focus on that rather than the bigger picture.”

While Muirhead won her seventh title, and Sloan and Adams their sixth, it was a first success for lead Gray, who capped it with two perfect tick shots in the final end.

She said: “I’m so delighted to have won my first Scottish Championship; it was an absolute joy to be playing with the girls today.

“I’ve been working hard on the tick shots, as this is my first season as a lead, so I was really pleased to make them both in the 10th end.”

 

Muirhead also praised coach Glenn Howard, adding: “As soon as we brought him on board we knew he’d help us in a lot of different ways, especially on the tactical side, and that’s just what he’s done.

“I think he was more nervous than us today! But he’s been fantastic, and absolutely delighted to get his first Scottish title I guess – but now he has the Canadian Championship coming up next week, and we’re all behind him for that.”

Now the focus turns to the World Championships in China, on which Sloan said: “It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ll get back to training pretty quickly.

“We’re really looking forward to getting out there, the field will be tough this year as always, but we’re in a good place and we just need to build on our performances this week – I think we’ve been pretty consistent.

“We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge.”

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The men’s final was a meeting of the two form teams, with Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Derrick Sloan, Alasdair Schreiber (alternate), Alan Hannah (coach)) and Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow, Ian Tetley (coach)) both on six-game winning streaks.

Team Murdoch had a slow start, but picked up the pace to finish on a W7 L2 record and top the standings – review of the men’s round robin here.

That put them into the 1v2 page playoff against Kyle Smith’s rink, and after a tight match Murdoch emerged victorious 4-3, stealing one in end six and taking their one down the last to make the final.

Team Mouat had to get there the hard way after a terrible Tuesday – losing heavily to Teams Murdoch and Whyte – and three wins on the trot forced a tiebreaker against Team Hardie, which they edged 5-4.

They faced defending champions Team Brewster in the 3v4 playoff, and steals in ends five and six, then a two in the ninth, gave them a 6-4 victory.

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SECOND SPOT: Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Derrick Sloan, Alasdair Schreiber and Alan Hannah. Pic: RCCC/Brian Battensby 2017

Their semi-final with Team Smith was dramatic in the extreme, Mouat dominating the opening five ends and leading 4-2.

Two in end seven and successive steals looked to have swung it for Smith, but a disastrous final end saw them give up three, Mouat winning 7-6 to set up a Murdoch showdown.

It was a showdown which saw Murdoch clinically exploit little mistakes from Mouat, who was playing an aggressive game but seemed to run out of gas after their Universiade exploits and long week in Perth.

Draws came up short or were a touch wide, and after the teams traded twos in the first couple of ends, Murdoch exploded into a 9-3 lead after five ends, courtesy of four in end three and three in the fifth.

There were to be no miracles for Mouat to allow a comeback as Murdoch completed a professional job well done, handshakes offered in the eighth end with the score 10-4.

An elated David Murdoch reflected on a ruthless performance afterwards: “That’s how we wanted to be. We didn’t win our last two finals, and we wanted to make sure that as we were the more experienced team we came across with that authority, played our A game and put a lot of pressure on the guys.

“For a first final it’s quite daunting out there and we wanted to make sure we put them under as much pressure as we could.”

On his team, he said: “I’m super proud of them. We’ve had this as our goal for a long, long time and put in a ton of work.

“It’s not easy to win this championship; we’ve had a super week, and we look to keep that going and get a good result in the World Championships.

“It’s something the general public probably don’t see, the early starts, in the gym and on the ice; you need to have that amount of work put in to achieve that type of goal.

“We covered every aspect of this week, we wanted to make sure we left no stone unturned, and we certainly did that.”

Murdoch is under no illusions that competition at Worlds will be fierce, adding: “The World Championship a year before the Olympics is probably the toughest year; every team is coming up to their best at the end of the quadrennial.

“It’s in the lion’s den, in Edmonton, and we know how exciting that is – we’ve been there and done it plenty of times, and that excites us too.

“We need to be at our best as it’s going to be a tough fight. [But] I like our chances.

“I’ve said for a long time, although results might not have been going well this season at times, I always like the way we’re throwing it, and we just needed the extra challenge of the Scottish Championship, some good ice conditions, and we brought our best.”

#scc2017 women’s round robin review

 

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MAKING IT: Hannah Fleming’s rink have made the playoffs despite a mixed week. Pic: Brian Battensby (brianbatphotography.co.uk)

Seven women’s teams have been cut to three for the later stages of the Scottish Curling Championships, with Teams Fleming, Muirhead and Smith left standing.

Team Muirhead won six from six in the round robin, though it was not easy – they may have started with an 11-1 romp against Team Gina Aitken, but against Team Smith it was very different.

Team Smith stole three in the first end, and although they scored four in end two, it was Smith who led 9-7 into end nine – only for Muirhead to score two and steal two to win a pulsating contest 11-9.

It was, you might say, a dress rehearsal for the 1v2 page playoff between them, and skip Eve Muirhead was pleased to have a tight game as preparation for the weekend.

“We’ve had a strong round robin,” she said, “and it’s always good to have those close games, down to the last stone, and seeing how the ice copes with that.

“It was a close game, but we battled hard after giving up a three early doors, we forced them to play a tough last shot and came away with the win.”

Coach Glenn Howard was equally pleased with how things have been going for the defending champions.

He said: “We’ve played really well this week and won a lot of games early, so it’s nice to get a game that goes to 10, as the ice can change, and we learned a ton from it.

“I’ve been so impressed – every game they’ve come out firing, made a ton of shots, high percentages, and not letting up despite getting an early lead.

“We’ve only been down a couple of times in the six games. [The Smith game] showed the girls have grit, they have what it takes to come back, and I like what I’m seeing.”

As for what Howard has brought to the table, Muirhead said: “Loads. We didn’t really think twice about who we wanted to ask to be our coach, and when Glenn said yes, that was special for me because he’s always been a legend to me, I’ve always looked up to him and watched him play.

“He’s brought so much to this team, we’re working well together, getting better and better, and developing a lot of aspects, and so far things have been good.”

In a playing sense, Muirhead said their coach ‘still has it’, and he was keen to get in some practice time himself during the week.

“Ironically I have a big event coming up myself, the Brier – you may have heard of it – and I’ve got to head out to St Johns next Thursday, so I’ve got to get a little practice in,” he said.

“My old body needs a little bit here and there.

“The conditions here are very similar to the ice I’m going to get at the Brier, so that’s a bonus for me.”

And coaching the Scottish champions?

“It’s been a blast,” he said. “It’s something new to me, I haven’t done a lot of coaching in the past.

“Eve sent me a message about a year ago, and because it’s Eve Muirhead and the girls, who I know really well, that was a big plus for me – and I have a big soft spot for Scotland, so those two together meant it was a no-brainer for me.

“It’s been a pleasure. The girls have been incredibly respectful, they listen to me but challenge what I’m saying too, so hopefully it’s a match made in heaven.”

With her Olympic dream on the back burner for now, Muirhead is focused on the weekend and claiming yet another Scottish title.

“Of course [the Olympics are] a motivation – ever since I threw my last stone in Sochi to get the bronze medal, I’m thinking about the next one and wanting to get better.

“So it’s always on your mind, but first things first, this is the Scottish Championships and this is what we focus on.”

The rink in her sights for the 1v2 playoff includes two former team-mates, Claire Hamilton and Sarah Reid, and they have had a fine week with Team Smith.

They won four and lost two, a 9-3 reverse against Team Gina Aitken turning out to be a blip, while they impressed against Team Muirhead in the last round robin match.

Hamilton said: “We were lucky enough that the game didn’t really matter, so it was a nice chance to play them for the first time this season – one of the toughest teams around – ahead of the page playoffs.

“We’re encouraged by the performance and look forward to playing again tomorrow.”

And, given the line-up of Hamilton, Reid, Kerry Clark, Hazel Reid and alternate Laura Ritchie is a new one this season, I asked whether making the 1v2 game was more than they could have expected.

“It probably is, yeah,” Hamilton said.

“We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this week, as although we’ve played a lot this season there’s not been many events where we’ve played all the Scottish teams, so there are some we haven’t played.

“We’ve been abroad on tour, not always on the same style of ice as Perth, so it’s been a good chance to see how we match up against everyone else in Scotland.

“We’re happy with where we are and are looking forward to it, and whatever happens we’ll be proud of how we’ve done so far.”

One of Team Smith’s victims were Team Fleming, as they went 7-1 down after five ends, before pulling it back to 8-8, Smith ultimately holding on to win 9-8.

Defeat pushed Team Fleming to a W2 L3 record, but they won their last round robin game 9-4 against Team Gina Aitken, and then defeated Team Karina Aitken in a tiebreaker, to make the semi-final, where they will play the loser of the 1v2 playoff.

Skip Hannah Fleming said: “We probably haven’t had the week we’d hoped we would have, but we’re doing it the hard way.

“We seem to be on a bit of a roll now, getting some momentum, and we’re into the playoffs so goal one is achieved.”

Did the comeback against Team Smith, albeit not getting the win, add to their confidence?

“Maybe in a roundabout way,” said Fleming.

“We had a really poor first half of the game, so if we are to play them tomorrow we can’t give it away early, and we’ll have a good chance of winning.

“I think we could tighten up on a few things here and there but we’re going in the right direction now.”

#scc2017 men’s round robin review

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CRUNCH TIME: Tom Brewster is in the Scottish Championships playoff mix again. Pic: Brian Battensby (brianbatphotography.co.uk)

The round robin stage of the Scottish Curling Championships is complete, and the men’s section saw less playoff pandemonium than the year before, where five teams finished on W6 L3 records. 

This year it only required one tiebreaker between Teams Hardie and Mouat to give us a final four of Teams Brewster, Mouat, Murdoch and Smith.

The 10 teams involved in the championship all played their part, with Team Telfer – who lost all nine of their games – coming within a couple of shots of beating Team Smith, edged out 7-6.

Kyle Smith and his rink were also glad to escape unscathed from a tough encounter with Team Whyte, who outplayed their opponents for much of the match but lost 7-3.

It was one of a number of impressive performances from the young team, who shrugged off the loss of regular skip Ross Whyte (he’s at the World Junior Championships as Cameron Bryce’s fifth man) to claim five wins.

Their six-man rotation, skipped by Callum Kinnear when he wasn’t working, upset Teams Murdoch (7-5) and Mouat (8-1), took Team Brewster to an extra end (losing 8-7), and were left to rue a few bad shots in defeat to Team Smith.

Kyle Smith said: “They [Whyte] seemed to have a really good week.

“They’re good curlers, and upset a few folk, so we were quite relieved to get over the finish line against them.”

The Smith rink posted seven victories to two defeats, putting them joint top of the round robin standings and into the 1v2 page playoff against David Murdoch’s Olympians.

“That’s 100 per cent where we wanted to be at the start of the week,” said Smith. “So we’re very pleased.

“We’ve been pretty good, we’ve had some tough games and had to dig deep to steal sometimes or create our twos, but we’re all working together so we need to keep that going.

“Hopefully we’re due a win over him [Murdoch], so we’ll see how we get on.”

Team Murdoch lost two of their first four games – to Hardie and Whyte – but since then they’ve won five in a row, meaning they carry the best form into the playoffs.

Skip Murdoch said: “Our number one priority is to get into the playoffs, and it’s a great bonus that we’re in the 1v2 – that’s where we’ve been aiming the whole week.

“We did have a slow start, but we’ve played some great curling this week and bossed some teams around, and beat a lot of teams that have been playing well.”

In fact they have defeated three of the top five in the section, beating Teams Smith (7-5), Mouat (9-2) and Brewster (8-6).

Murdoch added: “We’re in a good place. It’s going to be a tough weekend – everyone’s in it to win it, and so are we, so we hope to bring our best game to the weekend.

“We’ve been on a bit of a win streak, so you feel good and have your chest puffed out from that.

“When you have a good feeling you’re relaxed, and you just need to bring the intensity.”

Rivalling Murdoch for form are Team Mouat who, after their chastening defeats to Murdoch and Whyte on Tuesday, have won four in a row, including the tiebreaker with Team Hardie.

Grant Hardie’s rink enjoyed another good week, starting with four straight wins, but ultimately it ended in frustration as defeats to Smith, Mouat and Brewster pushed them into a decider with Mouat, the latter scoring two in end eight in winning 5-4.

Skip Bruce Mouat paid tribute to his opponents, saying: “They’re [Hardie] really strong, we’ve played them quite a few times this season and it’s probably been 50-50 games-wise, so it was good to win tonight.”

They won gold at the Winter University Games earlier this month, bringing confidence but also, undoubtedly, some fatigue.

Mouat added: “It’s always going to be quite tiring after a week’s rest and then playing another long week, but I think we’ve really managed to rest well over the week – and that’s what we go to the gym for!”

But it’s target achieved for them in Perth, and they’re a dangerous side in the last four.

“Initially [making playoffs] is what we set out to do, and then obviously we want to win it now, so it’s three must-wins,” said Mouat.

“A winning run is always important. We had a rough Tuesday, losing two on the trot, and bad losses, but now it’s four on the trot that we’ve won.

“Going into the games with a bit of momentum is always a good thing, so if we show up and play well we’ll definitely cause some problems for the other teams.”

But standing in their way are reigning champions Team Brewster, who finished alongside Teams Murdoch and Smith on W7 L2, but having lost to both they missed out on playing in the 1v2 game.

Not that skip Tom Brewster has any complaints about his rink’s round robin performance.

“I think we’re playing just as well as we were last year; I don’t see much difference.

“Even the game we lost yesterday to Dave [Murdoch], we probably outplayed them apart from one bad end which cost us the game.”

The concession of fours in end six against Smith and end two versus Murdoch were decisive, fighting back from 5-1 down to 6-6 in the latter match, before being beaten 8-6.

“We’ve lost two games this week where, truthfully, one bad end has cost us the game, so we just need to cut out a couple of those simple mistakes in the ends we’ve given up,” Brewster added.

“We’ve not played badly in either lost game, just our opponents have been exceptional. So if we cut that out we’ll be in a good place.”

As for the 3v4 match-up, it pits them against a team they’ve already beaten in Team Mouat, albeit after an extra end.

Brewster said: “It’s one extra game, that’s it; you’ve just got to be here at the end of the week.

“I’m confident, we’ve had a good end to the week and we’re improving as the week’s gone on, so that’s what matters.”

Scottish Curling Championships 2017 preview

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LOTS AT STAKE: Glen Muirhead, Tom Brewster, Scott Andrews and David Murdoch. Pic: British Curling/Perthshire Picture Agency (Graeme Hart)

The Scottish Curling Championships return to Perth this weekend, with Teams Brewster and Muirhead aiming to retain their respective men’s and women’s titles.

We’ve past the ‘one year to go’ mark to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which means the stakes are raised up a notch – these championships are not just about the Scottish titles, or Worlds qualification, but also about making a statement in the race to Pyeongchang.

With the Roaring Game Blog joining curlers and fans in descending on Perth, here is a guide to the teams in contention and what’s in store over the week.

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KEY CONTENDERS – MEN

Team Brewster have put themselves in the box seat for Pyeongchang by winning last year’s Scottish Championships, and then qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in Braehead.

The Euros didn’t go to plan for the Brewster rink, but in the last couple of months they have won the Karuizawa International and Perth Masters, and of course you would expect them to be up there again in the Fair City.

Tom Brewster’s GB team-mates in Sochi in 2014, Team Murdoch, would seem to be running out of chances to return to the Olympics, having failed to represent their country in the three years since those last Games.

They’re the top-ranked Scottish rink this season though – currently 12th in the World Curling Tour Order of Merit, ahead of Team Smith in 14th and Team Brewster in 18th – and skip David Murdoch is a serial winner of this competition (as were his team from 2011-13).

But they have found their route to major championships blocked in recent years – often by Brewster – so, should they both reach the final this year, will Murdoch finally be able to turn the tables?

There’s no guarantee of a Brewster-Murdoch final, mind you, as Team Smith have enjoyed a superb season in winning the OCT Oakville title and reaching a first Grand Slam of Curling final at the Tour Challenge.

If they put a run of wins together they’re very hard to stop, so don’t rule out a first Scottish title for Kyle Smith and co this year.

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KEY CONTENDERS – WOMEN

Defending champions Team Muirhead arrive in Perth, once again, as big favourites – their skip is going for her seventh Scottish title after all.

Naturally Eve and co are favourites to represent GB in Pyeongchang too, and have brought Lauren Gray in at lead and Glenn Howard as tactical coach with the aim of upgrading on the bronze won in Sochi.

And it’s not been a bad season so far for the re-jigged line-up, with tour victories in Basel and Glasgow (the Glynhill Ladies International), plus European bronze.

With last year’s second-placed skip, Gray, now in the Muirhead ranks, their main adversaries would seem to come in the form of Team Fleming.

Having brought Jen Dodds and Vicky Wright on board, the Fleming rink have had an excellent season, reaching finals at the Stockholm Ladies Cup, Red Deer Classic and Qinghai China International, and rising to 29th in the WCT Order of Merit.

Their head-to-heads with Muirhead have tended to go the way of the more experienced skip, but these championships gives Fleming the perfect chance to show how much that gap has narrowed this year.

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DARK HORSES – MEN

There’s nothing like a gold medal to perk you up before a(nother) major competition, and that’s just what Team Mouat achieved at the Winter University Games in Kazakhstan earlier this month.

The reigning Junior World Champions certainly have the talent and pedigree to cause a major headache for Brewster, Murdoch et al.

As do Team Hardie, who were impressive at the last Scottish Champs and have once again performed well on the Scottish Curling Tour, clinching the overall tour crown with one event remaining.

They like pulling off an upset these boys, so don’t be surprised if they put a few noses out of joint on their way to a playoff spot.

Hardie themselves were upset in the Forfar Open final by relative newcomers Team Fraser – they have a former Scottish champion in Ruairidh Greenwood, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against the more established names.

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DARK HORSES – WOMEN

Team G Aitken were, like Team Mouat, at the World University Games, and narrowly missed out on a playoff place after losing a tiebreaker against Switzerland.

They have gained valuable experience on tour this season too, and will be eager to prove that a Fleming v Muirhead final is far from a formality.

(One stone at a time, one game at a time… I know, I know.)

Younger rinks Team K Aitken – Scottish Junior runners-up this year – and Team MacDonald – 2017 Asham Under 21 Slam winners – are also ones to look out for.

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RIVALS: Eve Muirhead calls the shot while Hannah Fleming watches on. Pic: British Curling/Perthshire Picture Agency (Graeme Hart)

THE BIG MATCH(ES)

The 10 men’s rinks and seven women’s will play round robin games from Sunday, February 19 to Thursday, February 23.

Some match-ups to look out for include:

Murdoch v Smith (Monday Feb 20 at noon) – the first clash between probable title contenders on the men’s side.

Fleming v Muirhead (Monday Feb 20 at 4pm) – the two highest-ranked women’s teams look to land an early psychological blow.

Brewster v Smith (Monday Feb 20 at 8pm) – big day for Team Smith this one, with their second game versus a 2016 finalist, and also Glen Muirhead v Thomas Muirhead.

G Aitken v K Aitken (Tuesday Feb 21 at 8am) – more sibling rivalry, this time between skips in the women’s section.

Brewster v Murdoch (Wednesday Feb 22 at noon) – a repeat of last year’s final, the two big favourites… let’s hope it’s better than their 2016 round robin meeting, which was over far too quickly.

G Aitken v Fleming (Wednesday Feb 22 at 4pm) – two teams looking to close the gap to Muirhead. Who will come out on top?

Hardie v Mouat (Wednesday Feb 22 at 8pm) – outside of the big three of Brewster, Murdoch and Smith, these rinks look best equipped to challenge.

Tiebreakers (if required) will take place on Thursday Feb 23 at 6.30pm, ahead of the page playoffs (Feb 24 at noon), semi-finals (Feb 24 at 7pm), women’s final (Feb 25 at 11am) and men’s final (Feb 25 at 4pm).

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COVERAGE

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club event page will have all the team line-ups, linescores and standings during the week, and of course I will be doing my best to bring updates via the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.

Although the BBC will be filming at the championships, with highlights to be broadcast the week after the event finishes, there will be no live streaming of matches.

The fourth best way to enjoy curling, so says the tagline, is CurlingGeek, and I will endeavour to cover as many games as possible from Monday… hopefully with fewer trolls than last year.

That said, if you can make it to Perth for a day or two, watching (for free) from the friendly fans’ viewing area above the sheets is heartily recommended – it’s only the finals on Saturday which require tickets via Eventbrite.

Bryce and Jackson win Scottish Juniors

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Scottish Junior men’s champions Team Bryce (photo: facebook.com/CurlingTeamBryce)

Teams Bryce and Jackson will represent Scotland at the World Junior Curling Championships next month after winning the national titles in Aberdeen.

There was also success this weekend for Team Muirhead, who claimed a home victory at the Glynhill Ladies International, a Curling Champions Tour event in Braehead.

And Team Smith made the final at the German Masters in Hamburg, finishing as runners-up to Team Walstad of Norway.

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The Scottish Curling Junior Championship, hosted by Curl Aberdeen, saw Team Bryce (Cameron Bryce, Robin Brydone, Euan Kyle, Frazer Shaw) top the men’s round robin with seven wins from seven.

They defeated Teams McNay (8-2), Cormack (10-2), Whyte (7-5), Joiner (10-2), Carson (5-3), Craik (6-3) and Baird (7-3).

Team Whyte (Ross Whyte, Callum Kinnear, Ryan McCormack, Duncan McFadzean) finished second in the section on W6 L1, ahead of Teams Baird (David Baird, Fraser Kingan, Robin McCall, Gavin Barr) and McNay (Cameron McNay, James Baird, Fin Campbell, Angus Bryce) on W4 L3, who had to play a tiebreaker – won 8-6 by McNay after a steal of two in end 10.

On the women’s side, it was Team Jackson (Sophie Jackson, Naomi Brown, Mili Smith, Sophie Sinclair), who went undefeated, with round robin victories against Teams Farmer (7-6), Aitken (14-5), MacDonald (8-4), Dandie (9-6), Keen (12-1) and Davie (9-4).

Behind them came Teams Davie (Lisa Davie, Kirsty Barr, Annabel Skuse, Emma Barr) and Aitken (Karina Aitken, Rebecca Morrison, Hailey Duff, Laura Barr), both on W4 L2 records.

In the 1v2 page playoff games, Bryce scored twos in ends seven and nine to beat Whyte 7-5, while Jackson roared into a 7-2 lead after five ends in overcoming Davie 8-6.

Whyte earned their third crack at Bryce by winning the men’s semi-final 7-4 against McNay, but it was Aitken who claimed the women’s match – defeating Davie 8-3.

The finals were both tight affairs. Bryce led Whyte 6-3 after five ends but their opponents forced the issue right to the end, Bryce having to take one in end 10 to win 9-7 and clinch the title.

The women’s final was even closer, as Aitken and Jackson traded singles up to 2-2 after six ends; Aitken then stole in end seven, but Jackson scored two in end nine to lead.

One from Aitken in end 10 forced an extra end, where Jackson scored one to take it 5-4 and claim a place at the World Juniors that they had qualified Scotland for this month.

Jackson’s third Naomi Brown said: “After such a nip and tuck game and following all the hard work that went into the World Bs this is probably the best feeling ever after this Scottish final.

“For a new team we have achieved such a lot together; I didn’t even know Mili at the start of the season and we have all gelled so well and held it together and kept the focus.

“I am really proud of all of my team mates and our coach Cate (Brewster) who is so much part of our team and our results today, it has made all of the hard work worthwhile.”

Bryce and Jackson will fly the Saltire in Gangneung, Korea, between February 16-26.

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The Glynhill Ladies International returned to Braehead for its 10th edition, with four Scottish teams among the 24-strong field.

The teams were divided into four sections, and Section A saw Teams Kubeskova (Czech Republic) and Wang (China) qualify – Team Aitken (Gina Aitken, Rowena Kerr, Rachael Halliday and Rachel Hannen) dropped short despite wins over Teams Tirinzoni (6-5) and Nielsen (7-3).

In Section B it was Teams Pätz and Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray) who progressed, Muirhead having won against Kauste (8-4), Sveliga-Frynia (7-2), Wrana (6-3) and Pätz (9-3), and lost to Barbezat (4-1).

Section C saw Team Feltscher join Swiss compatriots Pätz in the last eight, but Team Fleming (Hannah Fleming, Jen Dodds, Alice Spence, Nancy Smith (super sub)) just missed out after a 9-7 loss to Team Jentsch meant the Germans went through.

Fleming were then beaten 7-3 by Team Moiseeva in the Consolation competition semi-finals, Moiseeva finishing runner-up to Barbezat in that part of the event.

And Section D was topped by Team Sigfridsson of Sweden and Team Hegner of Switzerland – with Team Smith (Hazel Smith, Sarah Reid, Laura Ritchie, Claire Hamilton) going out on a W2 L3 record.

Muirhead faced Feltscher in the last eight and scored twos in ends three, four and seven to overcome the Swiss 8-3.

The semi-finals pitted them against Hegner, and this match was won 7-5, the Scots stealing two in end three and scoring three in end six.

And they faced Swiss opposition once again in the final, in the form of Pätz.

Muirhead scored twos in ends two and four to lead 4-3 at halfway, before steals of three in end five and one in end six handed them the win 8-3 and their first Glynhill title.

Skip Eve Muirhead told British Curling: “Alina [Pätz] won last week in Switzerland when we didn’t have such a good week, so for us to bounce back from that after a lot of good chats with our coaches and all our support staff, we had a few key things to work on and to focus on and I think we did that really well.

“To get a Scottish winner’s always nice, and there was a lot of support in here. I was really impressed with the numbers that came along.”

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There were also four Scottish rinks involved in the German Masters in Hamburg, and while Teams Brewster and Murdoch went out early on W1 L2 records, there was more success for Teams Mouat and Smith.

Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) were in Pool B, and won three straight matches – versus Teams Brunner (6-4), Rui Liu (7-2) and Retornaz (7-4).

Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Derrick Sloan, Gregor Cannon), in Pool E, lost their opener 6-3 to Team Walstad of Norway, but hit back by defeating Teams Wunderer (8-4) and Baumann (7-5).

Smith, having topped their group, had two chances to qualify for the quarter-finals and after losing the first 5-4 to Walstad after an extra end, they won the second 7-4 against Team Bottcher of Canada.

Mouat joined them in the quarter-finals after pipping the colourful trouser enthusiasts of Norway, Team Ulsrud, 6-5.

In the last eight, Smith scored four in end four in beating the Swiss De Cruz rink 6-4, but Mouat gave up a four in end six versus Walstad to lose 8-3 and exit the competition.

Come the semi-finals, Smith faced Team Timofeev of Russia, and having scored two in end two, they took their ones when they needed to, winning 4-2.

That set up a final with Walstad, the Norwegians having been something of a nemesis so far for the Scottish rinks.

And so it proved again. Walstad stole one in end four, but Smith stole in end six to level it up at 3-3.

But a three for the Norwegians in end seven proved the game-winner, as they took the title 6-3 – having won every game played in Hamburg – with Smith as worthy runners-up.