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Eight Ends: Homan just warming up heading into busy stretch

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan and Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher ran in the New Year on the right note capturing the Meridian Canadian Open titles Sunday.

Homan upended Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland 4-3 for the women’s championship while Bottcher topped Toronto’s Team John Epping 6-3 in the men’s final.

Both Team Homan and Team Bottcher brought their A-games going through the tournament with unblemished 6-0 records.

Here are takeaways in Eight Ends from the first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of 2019.

1st End: Homan just warming up heading into busy stretch

Skip Rachel Homan believed her team could become the first women’s team to crack double-digit title wins in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling before the season was up.

It only took 13 days into 2019 for Homan to capture her record-setting 10th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s championship at the Meridian Canadian Open snapping a tie for first place with Jennifer Jones.

Homan, who also claimed the Tour Challenge and Boost National titles earlier this season, has now won three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles in a row, which matches her team’s own women’s record they set in 2015.

It’s actually a quote Homan said after winning the Boost National that stood out to this reporter as the skip addressed the heartbreak of missing the podium at the 2018 Winter Olympics and how her team is now committed to taking their game to a whole other level.

“We’ve worked really hard this year,” Homan said. “Obviously, a little bit disappointing after the Olympics. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to do for Canada, so we’re working as hard as ever and want to keep pushing the game and keep pushing ourselves. We’re just having a lot of fun right now.”

2nd End: Nobody beats the Bottch

While Homan captured her 10th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title, Bottcher won his first alongside third Darren Moulding, second Bradley Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin.

Team Bottcher had been steadily climbing to this point and finished runner-up in their last series appearance at the Tour Challenge. It was only a matter of time before they finally reached the winner’s circle and did so with authority by running through the Meridian Canadian Open undefeated.

Martin still has a long way to go to catch up to his dad, the legendary Kevin Martin, who claimed a record 18th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s championships.

The title victory bodes well for Team Bottcher entering provincial playdowns as they aim for a three-peat. The biggest obstacle they didn’t face during their back-to-back Alberta championships will be Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe, who bypassed the 2017 provincial tournament by holding the Team Canada auto-berth back to the Brier and skipped last year’s playdowns due to the Winter Olympics.

“Our provincial is a short triple knockout similar to this,” Bottcher said. “We’ll have Koe to play, hopefully, a couple of times in there, and it’s good prep. It’s good prep also to win one and have the confidence as you’re heading into those events.”

3rd End: The A teams’ work here is done

The intriguing stat entering the week was only one team previously had qualified through the A Event of the triple knockout in the Meridian Canadian Open and gone on to win the championship: Team Epping in 2015 (you may recall Epping threw 100 per cent in that year’s men’s final). That’s counting both men’s and women’s divisions by the way.

B Event teams continue to lead the way with five championships, however, they were shutout from the finals as A Event teams closed the gap a bit picking up both titles this year and C Event teams added two more to their runners-up total.

Here is how the numbers look now.

Champions 3 5 2
Runners-up 5 1 4

4th End: Epping rebounds at right time

Although Team Epping didn’t leave with the championship, they needed a run like that at the Meridian Canadian Open. After capturing the Canadian Beef Masters in October, they missed the playoffs at the Tour Challenge and Boost National.

Epping was on the verge of early elimination again here falling to the C Event with a 1-2 record but picked up must-win victories over Winnipeg’s Team Reid Carruthers and defending champions Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland in order to qualify for the playoffs.

The reigning Ontario Tankard champion Epping will face some stiff competition in playdowns starting with Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont.

Howard, 56, is having a renaissance year qualifying for the playoffs in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament for a fourth time through five events while also handling double duty coaching Scotland’s Team Eve Muirhead. Although Howard doesn’t have a Slam title this season like Epping, his team has had a more stable year.

5th End: Fry sharp in return to Team Jacobs

Third Ryan Fry rejoined Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., at the Meridian Canadian Open following a six-week personal leave.

Fry threw in the high 90s during consecutive games in the team’s opening day of action and also came through firing at a 95 per cent clip in their C Event final against Team Matt Dunstone in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Team Jacobs had been on a red-hot run of late winning the Tour Challenge, prior to Fry’s hiatus, then captured the Canada Cup and reached the quarterfinals at the Boost National during his absence. It was crucial for Fry to slide back into the lineup with ease and not miss a beat.

“I’ve been spending the last six weeks really trying, on top of other things, to get my game together and I felt like I’ve done that,” Fry said Wednesday.

6th End: Silvernagle, Kleiter make eye-catching debuts

North Battleford’s own Team Robyn Silvernagle and Saskatoon’s Team Rylan Kleiter received the sponsor’s exemptions and shined in different ways.

Team Silvernagle stunned the field beating Tirinzoni to qualify for the playoffs in the B Event finals but the Swiss side solved the hometown team in the quarterfinal rematch.

Silvernagle, who has finished runner-up at the past two provincials, has had a strong season with three World Curling Tour title wins and is currently ranked 13th on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date rankings, just on the outside looking in for a Players’ Championship spot. Their return to the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling could be a lot quicker than you think.

Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Kleiter went winless but was looking to gain valuable experience with his team representing Saskatchewan later this month at the Canadian juniors. Team Kleiter made a colour splash with their flashy pants (move over Team Ulsrud). I mean, just look at them!


(Photo Credit: Anil Mungal)

7th End: Sickest shot of the week

It’s not often you see a seven-ender in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling game (alright, it also happened once last season) but Eve Muirhead still had to pull off a delightful double takeout in order to get her touchdown in the first end of the quarterfinals against Team Chelsea Carey.

The game ended with the football-esque 10-3 final score fittingly.

8th End: Next for Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling takes a bit of a hiatus now with provincial, national and world championships taking centre stage. Our next event is three months away but it’s a biggie with the prestigious Players’ Championship running April 9-14. The crown jewel event in the series returns to Toronto at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (aka the former Maple Leaf Gardens).

After that it’s back to Saskatchewan for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup, April 23-28, at Saskatoon’s Merlis Belsher Place.