2017-18 curling season preview

Olympic Curling Teams - Perthshire Picture Agency - Graeme HartTHE CHOSEN ONES: Great Britain’s men’s and women’s curlers for Pyeongchang 2018 (Team Muirhead and Team Smith). Pic: British Curling/Graeme Hart

Who said anything about a quiet summer break?

There have been some huge changes in the landscape of Scottish curling over the last few months.

There’s the personnel changes, of course.

David Murdoch’s playing days are over, with one of the stalwarts of the Scottish game retiring from competitive curling and switching to coaching.

The subsequent reshuffles have thrown up some intriguing team combinations for the new season.

Murdoch’s third Greg Drummond has moved up to skip, piloting a rink which also consists of Ross Paterson, Gregor Cannon and Michael Goodfellow.

Heading in the opposite direction to Paterson is Scott Andrews, who joins an all-new Team Brewster, with Tom Brewster also welcoming Duncan Menzies and Alasdair Schreiber to his quartet.

Team Bryce have added Ross Whyte to their roster, while Bruce Mouat’s new rink has a bit of a rockstar look to it.

Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan are all on board – it’s a team packed with talent, so I’m excited to see what they can do in Scotland and on tour this year.

There are changes on the women’s side too, notably Sochi 2014 medallist Claire Hamilton coming into skip Gina Aitken’s team – Aitken moving to third in place of Rowena Kerr.

Some teams have stuck with the same formula of course, including the rinks selected to represent Great Britain at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (oh yes, it’s an Olympic year!) – Team Muirhead and Team Smith.

There have of course been changes outside of the teams themselves, including the opening of the National Curling Academy in Stirling, which will hopefully see Scotland/Britain keep up with the world’s top – and emerging – curling nations.

The Curling Champions Tour and World Curling Tour have merged, and – closer to home – it’s good news to see the Scottish Curling Tour expand and gain a swanky new website.

Scotland (Aberdeen to be exact) will host the 2018 World Junior Championships, which can hopefully build on the interest generated by the Olympics (the countdown to #lovecurling trending again is underway…) the month before.

The Olympics have pulling power that individual winter sports can only dream of, so it’s vital that curling (Scottish curling in particular) uses its events this year to draw more fans, and maybe the next generation of players, to the game.

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Last week gave us a taste of what’s to come, with Teams Bryce and Jackson representing Scotland at the latest ‘Curling Night in America’ event in Omaha, while Judith and Lee McCleary flew the Saltire at the Audi quattro Winter Games in New Zealand (making the quarter-finals but losing to eventual champions Estonia).

This weekend sees things move up a gear. The first Grand Slam event of the season is on the horizon – the Tour Challenge (Tiers 1 and 2), on September 5-10 – and so there are four Scottish rinks over in Canada.

Teams Brewster, Drummond, Mouat and Smith will all fight it out for the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, with eyes on Smith in particular.

Victory in Oakville (in the Oakville OCT Fall Classic) was one of the highlights in an impressively consistent (also consistently impressive) season which saw them get the nod for the Olympics.

How will they handle that extra pressure as Pyeonchang approaches? They’re still a young team, but they’ve been together for a long time and they know how to beat the world’s best.

Eve Muirhead has described an Olympic appearance (and medal) as putting a target on your back, and we’ll get our first chance to see the Team GB women at the Tour Challenge in Regina, where Team Fleming will also compete.

Excited yet? You should be. The changes over the summer simply add another dynamic to what promises to be a thrilling Olympic season.

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