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Eight Ends: Fun facts and memorable moments from GSOC season

Eight Ends is your source for insight and analysis from the Grand Slam of Curling. This edition is the season finale and a year-in-review of all the highlights from the 2022-23 campaign.

FIRST END: You know Brad Gushue is good but just how good? Gushue and his crew from St. John’s, N.L., picked up where they left off in the Grand Slam of Curling series after adding E.J. Harnden at second. Team Gushue ended last year winning the KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup and kicked off the 2022-23 campaign by capturing the BOOST National in North Bay, Ont., in October. It was the 14th title in the series for Gushue and moved him into a tie with Glenn Howard for second place all-time among skips (Kevin Martin is at the top of the mountain with 18).

You know Gushue is good but just how good? Although Gushue ended this season finishing runner-up to Brendan Bottcher in the KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup on Sunday in Regina, he continued an incredible streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. The last time Gushue didn’t make the cut was the Canadian Open way back in January 2018. As we mentioned in our previous Eight Ends, Gushue has only missed the playoffs in the series four times since the start of the 2012-13 season. Even if you want to include the 2013 Masters, when Team Gushue was away competing in the Olympic pre-trials, you’re still counting on just one hand.

Gushue isn’t just qualifying for the playoffs either but also going deep. Looking at the 16 events since the start of the 2018-19 season, Gushue has made it to at least the semifinals 15 times. Is that the epitome of consistency or what?

SECOND END: Team Edin minus Niklas Edin? The Swedish squad lost their skip Edin due to a knee injury while he was warming up for the HearingLife Tour Challenge semifinals in Grande Prairie, Alta., in late October. Third Oskar Eriksson, second Rasmus Wranå and lead Christoffer Sundgren carried on as a trio defeating Gushue to reach the championship game followed by Matt Dunstone’s Winnipeg-based team in the final to win their fourth title.

It was the first time a team of three had won a Grand Slam of Curling title although Edin still got his name on the trophy as he just missed the last two games of the tournament. We’ve seen other clubs this season such as Team Hasselborg, Team Retornaz, Team Peterson, etc. attempt to play an entire event as a three-person squad due to injuries or illnesses and it’s probably only a matter of time before that happens.

2022-23 GSOC SeasonMen’s ChampionWomen’s Champion
Team Gushue (CAN)Team Tirinzoni (SUI)
Tour Challenge Tier 1
Team Edin (SWE)Team Homan (CAN)
Tour Challenge Tier 2
Team Dropkin (USA)Team Grandy (CAN)
Team Retornaz (ITA)Team Einarson (CAN)
Canadian Open
Team Bottcher (CAN)Team Fujisawa (JPN)
Princess Auto
Players’ Championship
Team Koe (CAN)Team Wranå (SWE)
KIOTI Tractor
Champions Cup
Team Bottcher (CAN)Team Homan (CAN)
Pinty’s Cup
(season championship)
Team Gushue (CAN)Team Einarson (CAN)

THIRD END: We saw 12 teams from six different countries win events in the series this season with only two repeats: Canada’s Brendan Bottcher and Rachel Homan. Two champions were also the first from their countries to ever win one starting with Joël Retornaz from Italy.

Retornaz won bronze medals at the world championship and European championships in 2022 while third Amos Mosaner also earned gold at the Winter Olympic Games in mixed doubles. Team Retornaz capped a banner year by claiming the WFG Masters in December in Oakville, Ont., to become the first Italian team to win a Grand Slam title.

“It means a lot first of all to ourselves but also for our country,” Retornaz said after the win. “We’re not a huge curling country but we’re showing that with passion and dedication you can get to the top. Today we are at the top, so we couldn’t be more proud.”

Stefania Constantini, who won Olympic gold with Mosaner in mixed doubles, made her series debut with her women’s team the following month at the Co-op Canadian Open in Camrose, Alta. With Italy set to host the next Winter Olympics in 2026, the future looks bright for Italian curling.

FOURTH END: Speaking of the Co-op Canadian Open, Satsuki Fujisawa made history in that event as her club became the first Japanese team, and first from the Asian continent, to capture a Grand Slam title. Like with Retornaz and Italy, Fujisawa has shown the path for other Japanese teams to follow.

“For all of the Japanese curlers, it’s kind of a dream to be a champion of the Grand Slams but right now, it’s not just a dream, it’s a goal,” Team Fujisawa third Chinami Yoshida said after the win. “I hope that not just us but maybe every Japanese team coming to the Grand Slams can compete at this amazing competition together.”

FIFTH END: Kerri Einarson’s club from Gimli, Man., accomplished something no men’s or women’s team had achieved before by reaching six consecutive finals in the series from the Princess Auto Players’ Championship in April 2022 to the Co-op Canadian Open in January 2023.

Along the way, they picked up two titles winning the KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup and WFG Masters. The superb streak came to an end at the same place where it all started during last month’s Princess Auto Players’ Championship (losing to the eventual champions in the semifinals) but that was just a hiccup as they were back in the final at the KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup. We talked about Gushue’s consistency but reaching the final in almost every event? There aren’t enough hyperboles for how amazing that is.

SIXTH END: A Swedish team won the Princess Auto Players’ Championship women’s title for the second straight season but it wasn’t Hasselborg who successfully defended the trophy. Instead, it was Isabella Wranå’s side that was victorious this time.

The Players’ Championship is arguably the toughest title to win on tour as the field is slightly smaller, teams play more group games and qualification for entry is based on year-to-date (not total) rankings, so everyone competing has had a great season and no one is coasting on their performance from the previous year. Think of it like the playoffs. Now put that event in historic Maple Leaf Gardens, known today as the Mattamy Athletic Centre, right in the heart of downtown Toronto and you’ve got yourself a marquee event.

It’s an event typically won by skips who already have Grand Slam titles in their trophy cases. Since the 2014-15 season, when the Grand Slam series started to expand the number of its events, only two other skips have won their first titles at the Players’ Championship: Brad Jacobs in 2015 and Jamie Sinclair in 2018. Now add Wranå to that short list.

SEVENTH END: Bottcher formed a powerhouse new crew this season with third Marc Kennedy, second Brett Gallant and lead Ben Hebert. Combined, the four had won 42 Grand Slam titles but that’s all in the past and it’s all about what have you done lately.

Well, Team Bottcher took two of the last three Grand Slam men’s titles to close out the season winning the Co-op Canadian Open and KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup. Since going 0-4 through the HearingLife Tour Challenge in late October, Team Bottcher’s win-loss record in the Grand Slam series is 20-4. Three of those losses came in one event alone: the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

Bottcher has now won five Grand Slam titles as a skip, Gallant and Hebert are even at 14 apiece, but Kennedy now has 17 championship wins putting him in second place among all players in series history and just one back of his former captain Martin.

EIGHTH END: Last but certainly not least, we close out our season review with the one and only Rachel Homan, who has now won a record-extending 13 Grand Slam women’s titles following title victories this season at the HearingLife Tour Challenge and KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup. Sure, the lines are a bit blurred as Homan is the captain and the team bears her name but third Tracy Fleury is the skip technically. That was the case most of the year until this past week when Homan, who is expecting her third child, was back in the house.

No one closes out the season quite like Homan. Of Homan’s 13 Grand Slam title wins, four of them have come at the Champions Cup. Only Gushue on the men’s side has even won the event more than once with two title victories.

EXTRA END: What’s a review of the Grand Slam of Curling season without the shot of the year?

We have to give it to Kevin Koe’s triple takeout with the last rock of the eighth end of the Princess Auto Players’ Championship men’s final to score three points and win 5-4 over Yannick Schwaller to claim the title.

Koe also claims the set of steak knives for second place. His slash double takeout to score the winning three points with the last rock of the semifinals — and at the buzzer, in typical Koe fashion — was also impressive.