Baden Masters: Solid Scottish start to season

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Team De Cruz’s winning draw (via youtube.com/user/curlingchampionstour)

Team De Cruz scored a home victory at the Baden Masters, after the three Scottish teams in Switzerland succumbed at the quarter-final stage.

Teams Brewster, Murdoch and Smith all qualified from the round robin with W3 L1 records in their opening tournament of the 2016-17 season, but could progress no further than the last eight.

That left it to Peter De Cruz and Thomas Ulsrud’s rinks to contest the final, with the Swiss team taking the victory 6-5 after an extra end.

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Curling is back, and that meant the welcome return of some of the sport’s greatest sights.

There was a strong field in Baden for the Curling Champions Tour event, including recent World and European medallists Teams De Cruz, Edin, Stjerne and #funkypants Ulsrud.

Scotland was well represented too, with Teams Brewster, Murdoch and Smith all involved.

Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan) started their campaign with two victories – both after an extra end.

They led Team Hess of Switzerland 4-1 after four ends, but were taken to an extra end at 6-6, using hammer to score two and win 8-6; they were then pegged back to 4-4 by Team Retornaz of Italy scoring two in end eight, but again they got the job done by scoring one in the extra.

Their third match was much more straightforward, scoring two in end one and threes in ends three and four to beat Swiss Team Lottenbach 8-1, which set up a showdown with fellow unbeaten side Ulsrud – this time the Scots were on the wrong side of an extra end game, the Norwegians using hammer to score one and win 6-5.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) won their first match 9-4 against Swiss Team Pfister (taking a four in end five), but crashed to a 7-2 loss against another Swiss rink, Attinger, giving up two in end two, three in end four and two in end five.

But the Scots recovered from that by posting two victories – 7-4 against Team Van Dorp of the Netherlands (scoring twos in ends one and five) and 8-0 over Norwegians Team Walstad (three in end one, five in end two) – which meant that, like Brewster, they were into the quarter-finals with three wins and one loss.

Team Smith (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cammy Smith) opened with a 7-3 win over Team Morozumi of Japan, and enjoyed another comfortable win over Team Schwaller of Switzerland, twos in ends one and eight giving them a 6-3 victory.

They were edged out 4-3 by Stjerne (the Danes stealing one in end eight), but secured passage to the last eight by beating Team Brunner 5-2, scoring two against the Swiss in end one and stealing singles in ends six and seven.

Come the quarter-finals, it was over almost before it had begun for Murdoch, as Edin of Sweden scored two in end one and stole four in end two, plus another one in end three, to kill the game – handshakes at 7-0.

Brewster and Smith’s games both went down to the eighth end – Brewster leading Stjerne 2-1 in a low scoring affair (ends five to seven all blanked), but the Danes scored two in end eight to win the game 3-2.

And Smith led Ulsrud 4-3 into end eight… only to give up four at the death, and with their 7-4 defeat, the Scottish challenge¬†in the competition was at an end.

Ulsrud saw off Edin 6-5 (after another extra end) in the last four to reach the final, where they would face De Cruz of Switzerland Рwho had beaten Pfister 6-5 and Stjerne 5-1 in the knockout rounds.

That pitted the two unbeaten teams in the competition against each other – and it was an suitably tight final that went down to the wire.

The Norwegians opened with two, only for De Cruz to hit right back with three. From there they exchanged singles, Ulsrud forced to one in end eight for 5-5.

That meant hammer advantage for the Swiss in the extra end, and they needed a draw to the four-foot for victory – which they made.

So an opening tour victory for last season’s European Championships runners-up, and a solid enough start for the Scots – who will all be in Canada over the next month competing in World Curling Tour events.

World Men’s Curling Championship preview

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Team Scotland (Brewster) – photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages)

Scottish champions Team Brewster are in Basel, Switzerland, this week for the 2016 World Men’s Curling Championship.

At World Women’s,¬†Team Muirhead discovered just how difficult it is to make the playoffs at these top level events, and their male compatriots face a quality field too.

So what are their chances of remaining in contention for medals at the end of the week?

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Team Brewster (Tom Brewster, Glen Muirhead, Ross Paterson, Hammy McMillan, Scott Andrews (alternate)) have had something of an up and down season.

Their highlights include being runners-up at the Baden Masters (August) and Dumfries’ Lely Challenge (December), as well as winning the men’s title at the Curling Night in America event, also in December.

In February they dominated the Scottish Championships, losing their second round robin game but winning every match after that, including the final against Team Murdoch, 5-4.

They lost to Murdoch in the final of last weekend’s Aberdeen International, but to make it to that point they had to overcome Team Ulsrud of Norway in the semi-final – one of their real rivals for medals in Basel.

The Brewster rink may not be hugely experienced as a unit at this very highest level, but their skip certainly is – Tom Brewster won World silvers in 2011 and 2012, plus bronze in 2002 and 2013.

Alternate Scott Andrews was on board for those 2011, 2012 and 2013 championships, so can certainly help the greener members of the team, while inexperienced is certainly not a tag you can apply to their coach, Mike Harris.

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Team Brewster with coach Mike Harris at the Scottish Championships (photo: Tom J Brydone)

The Canadian is an Olympic silver medallist (1998), and has since worked in curling commentary for CBC/Rogers/Sportsnet Рhe knows the world game and how to outplay/out-think the top teams.

If Brewster can show the consistency of performance they did in Perth in February – with a tendency towards¬†playing a sensible game, keeping it tight until an opportunity to score big presented itself – then there’s no reason they can’t be challenging the teams at the head of the standings.

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And there will be some very capable teams for them to challenge, not least the defending champions РTeam Edin of Sweden.

Niklas Edin’s young rink have stayed together from last year, spending much of this season in Canada, banking experience against the strongest fields world curling has to offer – and taking a couple of weeks out in November to win gold at the European Championships!

Perennial challengers, and custodians of the fanciest pants in curling, Ulsrud’s Norwegians should also be in contention, and the same goes for Kevin Koe and his Canadian rink.

Having overcome what was widely considered the strongest Brier line-up in history, Koe are gunning for gold and it will take a fine performance from another rink to deny them, given their experience and quality.

Team Kauste of Finland will look to make that leap onto the podium after fourth-place finishes at the 2015 Worlds and then the Europeans in November, while Teams Michel and Shuster of Switzerland and the USA respectively will be no pushovers.

The Japanese women delighted fans with their smiles on the way to silver in Swift Current, and their counterparts Team Morozumi Рand fellow Pacific-Asia qualifiers Team Kim of Korea Рwill also look to make an impression as the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang draw ever closer.

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The 57th edition of the World Men’s Curling Championship takes place in the St Jakobshalle in Basel, the same venue where this¬†event was held in 2012.

The round robin runs from Saturday, April 2 (with Scotland facing Korea and then Norway on the opening day) through to Thursday, April 7 Рfollowed by page playoffs, culminating in the medal games on Sunday, April 10.

You can follow live scores through the event page, as well as updates from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s site – and, of course, the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Selected matches (including Scotland v Canada) will be shown online through World Curling TV, while Eurosport also has some coverage through the week.

And look out for an interview with Scotland skip Tom Brewster on this site tomorrow!