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8 Ends: Takeaways from the Players’ Championship

TORONTO — Jamie Sinclair stunned and Kevin Koe cruised through the Players’ Championship at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Sinclair became the first American to capture a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title shocking Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones 7-2 Sunday in the women’s final. Koe, who plays out of Calgary, completed an undefeated run through the men’s side with a 6-2 victory over Niklas Edin of Sweden for the men’s trophy.

Here are our takeaways from the tournament in Eight Ends:

1st End: Miracurl on Ice, Part II

Let’s get this out of the way first: Sinclair’s win over Jones was a huge upset in the grand scheme of things. It was her first Players’ Championship and first final in the series while Jones has won the event six times (and entered as the defending champion) and just rolled through the world championship undefeated.

Having said that, Sinclair was on fire in Toronto and earned this one playing stellar the whole week leading all skips with an 85 shooting percentage.

The final showcased that with Sinclair playing an aggressive game pouring on the pressure without the hammer advantage to start and forcing Jones into risky runbacks including two in the third that led to a double steal and another in the fourth from downtown (or more like suburban Scarborough since we were already in downtown Toronto) that also missed and led to a single steal and a 4-0 gap.

Jones, who threw 58 percent in the final, struggled to find the offence and a three-ender in the seventh for Sinclair put the exclamation mark on the match.

Sinclair’s victory should open the door for other American teams to follow by showing they can win the big one in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. That’s also what the team is hoping for coming off of the heels of another major victory for the U.S. in John Shuster’s Olympic gold-medal performance.

“It feels really good and especially after Shuster’s gold medal just because it feels like U.S. curling is on the rise,” Team Sinclair lead Monica Walker said. “Any win that any team has is just good for the sport in our country. We’re really excited about that.”

We’ve said it before, right here in Eight Ends, why American teams winning major events is a good thing for the growth of the sport and the prospects are exciting now that it’s actually happening.

2nd End: Team Koe going out on high note

It’s good to see Team Koe play the way we know they’re capable of playing and finishing in style as the Canadian Olympic reps plan to part ways after the season. Third Marc Kennedy is taking a break and second Brent Laing will compete again in his home province of Ontario joining John Epping. Lead Ben Hebert is staying put with Team McEwen’s B.J. Neufeld linking up at third and former skip Colton Flasch making the move to Calgary to play second.

Even though they have one event remaining — at home no less with the Humpty’s Champions Cup — going 8-0 through the Players’ Championship against the toughest field on tour for the crown jewel of the series will be a lasting memory.

“We’ve had an incredible four-year run,” Kennedy said. “I know we have one more event but this was really the big one we wanted to win. I’m proud of the guys and [feel] very fortunate.”

3rd End: Jones’s streak snapped

All good things come to an end and Jones’s loss in the Players’ Championship final saw her team’s phenomenal winning streak end at 27 games. The tear began Feb. 1 during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and ran right through the world championship as well.

The remarkable thing is it’s not even the only notable winning streak for the team this season. Team Jones also had a glorious 19-game winning streak from Oct. 24 to Dec. 6, 2017, winning the Masters and Boost National back-to-back and getting out to a hot start at the Olympic Trials.

Still, winning streaks don’t guarantee you trophies.

4th End: Edin shows no signs of slowing down

Team Edin has been road warriors from earning silver at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, competing in the Princess Auto Elite 10 in Winnipeg, returning home for nationals, over to Las Vegas to win the world championship and then straight to Toronto for the Players’ Championship. That’s tiring just writing all that never mind playing all those games. They didn’t really show any signs of fatigue and it wasn’t until the final when they looked beatable.

Edin’s lone loss in round-robin play was the result of a steal in an extra end when he got fooled on a tricky path of ice that resulted in his rock over-curling versus Kyle Smith. You’d think falling behind by three to Brad Gushue in the semifinals also would have deflated the Swedish squad, however, they overcame the odds scoring two in the sixth and stealing points in seven and eight to win the rematch of the world championship final.

Like the Energizer bunny, they keep going and going having played 119 games already this season, sporting a 92-27 win-loss record, with at least four more to follow at the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

5th End: Team Homan sticking together

Bad news: Team Homan went winless at a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament for the first time ever.

Good news: The foursome isn’t breaking up and plans to continue playing together next season.

While their Olympic run was disappointing for sure, they’re still one of the best teams in the world and that shouldn’t take away all of their accomplishments during the quadrennial. This is a team that won three consecutive Grand Slam major titles in 2015, went undefeated at the world championship a year ago and only sustained one loss during the Canadian Olympic trials to Chelsea Carey, which they avenged in the final anyway.

6th End: Gushue, Jones cash in

Even though Gushue bowed out in the semifinals on a steal, his team still had 75,000 reasons to be happy with their week at the Players’ Championship by collecting the Bonus Cup, which is awarded to the season champions.

It’s a year-long accomplishment to score as many points as you can during the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events and the $75,000 bonus is certainly a nice cherry on top of a great year on tour.

“The first job we had here this week was to win the [Bonus] Cup, that was the most important thing,” said Gushue, who won the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Masters to start this season. “It’s about season-long success and being the best at the Slams all year, which is the best-on-best. We’re pretty proud of it.”

Jones ran away with the women’s Bonus Cup and only needed to advance to the playoffs at the Players’ Championship to earn enough points to clinch it. Consistency was the key here as Jones was the only one who made playoffs at all six women’s Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments.

Val Sweeting and Casey Scheidegger were in the running but didn’t make the cut for qualification into the Players’ Championship where points were doubled and sunk their chances. Some like Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg and Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni missed the Boost National due to a conflict with the European Championship while Scotland’s Eve Muirhead passed on the Meridian Canadian Open as well while preparing for the Winter Olympics, which certainly put her team in a hole in trying to keep with Jones.

7th End: Team Hasselborg charges on as trio

Olympic gold medallist Hasselborg was on target to start the Players’ Championship until she fell ill just prior to her team’s final round-robin match against Carey. Team Hasselborg, who had already qualified for the playoffs, carried on as a trio with lead Sofia Mabergs and second Agnes Knochenhauer throwing three rocks each and third Sara McManus delivering last and calling the game. McManus hadn’t skipped since juniors but could have fooled us guiding the team to a 7-3 victory.

The team was happy to have Hasselborg back for the quarterfinals although the skip wasn’t 100 percent yet and they lost to Sinclair 5-3.

Hasselborg wasn’t the only three-player team this week with Team Gushue missing second Brett Gallant for their first couple games (Gallant was attending his grandfather’s funeral in P.E.I.) and Team Koe going sans skip due to illness for their contest against Reid Carruthers. Throw in some spares (Jeff Stoughton Team Carruthers and Kendra Lilly on Team Rocque) plus a few other teams switching up the throwing order and it was definitely an odd event when it comes to lineups.

8th End: Sickest shot of the week

It has to be Niklas Edin’s runback triple takeout against Brad Jacobs.

Edin was up by two points but in trouble during the sixth end with Jacobs pressing and sitting two. Edin just barely missed his own guard to raise one of Jacobs’s rocks and smash into the counters to clear the deck.

“While the triple was there, it’s just a much better result than getting one of them out and giving up two then it’s still a really close game,” Edin said. “Getting the triple was key to winning the game, I think.”

Jacobs got his deuce in the eighth to tie it, however, Edin prevailed in the extra end to win 5-4.

Extra End: Wrapping up with Humpty’s Champions Cup

It’s not over yet! The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling has one more event left on the schedule before we finally say goodbye to the season and the quadrennial.

The Humpty’s Champions Cup runs April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park featuring 15 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams who won a tournament over the course of the season. It’ll be the last hurrah for several teams, plus it’s kind of a long off-season, so you don’t want to miss this one.

Full-event and weekend passes plus single-draw tickets are available at Television coverage begins April 26 on Sportsnet with online streaming available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).