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Eight Ends: Homan, Retornaz look to keep on trucking in 2024

SASKATOON — The WFG Masters has wrapped up and it’s time for the holidays, but Team Rachel Homan and Team Joël Retornaz are already looking forward to hitting the ice in January for the next Grand Slam of Curling event, the Co-op Canadian Open, in Red Deer, Alta.

After both clubs had phenomenal fall seasons, capped with title victories in the Grand Slam of Curling tournament, who could blame them? Homan and her Ottawa-based club doubled up on Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni 8-4 while Retornaz’s crew from Italy edged out Scotland’s Team Ross Whyte 3-2 in Sunday’s finals at Merlis Belsher Place.

It was the fourth title on tour this season for Homan, who has played in five finals through six events and is now ranked second in the world right behind the reigning world champion Tirinzoni.

“It’s a nice time to take a little break but we’ll be working hard and we’re excited to get back on the ice in January and get to Red Deer,” Team Homan second Emma Miskew said. “Keep playing, keep building, keep learning and getting games together.”

Meanwhile, it was the third consecutive Grand Slam title for Retornaz, who tops the men’s rankings and now aims to become the first to win four consecutive championships in a single season.

“We really want to keep rolling,” Retornaz said. “It doesn’t end here. The year is ending now but our curling season is not ending. … We’re going to for sure enjoy (being with) our families during Christmas and festivities, then hit the ice and be ready for the next event in January.”

FIRST END: Every Grand Slam title victory has been unbelievable for Retornaz, but he better start believing as the dream has become a reality. The 40-year-old skip only made his series debut in April 2022 at the Princess Auto Players’ Championship and within a year plus a few days he’s won four championships. Retornaz captured his first during last season’s WFG Masters and rolled off victories at the HearingLife Tour Challenge in October and last month’s KIOTI National.

Full kudos to Retornaz and his teammates third Amos Mosaner, second Sebastiano Arman and lead Mattia Giovanella (plus coach Ryan Fry) as they saved their best for last shooting 92 per cent in the final.

Team Retornaz joined a pretty exclusive club as Team Kevin Martin (2006-07), Team Brendan Bottcher (2018-19) and Team Brad Jacobs (2019-20) are the only other men’s teams who have won three straight Slam titles in a single season. Homan has pulled it off twice (2015-16 and 2018-19) and Team Anna Hasselborg once (2019-20) in the women’s division.

“If you look at the names of other skips who have won three Slams in a row, you’re talking about the elite of world curling and the history of curling,” Retornaz said. “I think it’s very special for me. It’s me putting my name there, but I have to give a lot of credit to my team because they’re not named in that group but, of course, I couldn’t do it without my team and as I said, I’m super proud of them. we’re really doing a great job, teamwork is amazing including coach and everybody. It’s really special to be in that group of people.” 

Now Retornaz is on the cusp of history targetting four straight. Even winning four total in one season hasn’t been done before. Is it January yet?

SECOND END: The margin for error in Grand Slam events is super slim and that’s before we even get into tiebreakers and draw-to-the-button shootout totals. Just look at Retornaz’s week. During a 3-1 run through round-robin play, Retornaz lost his first game against Team Reid Carruthers and stole the winning point in an extra end to defeat Team Kevin Koe. If Retornaz had not secured a narrow victory over Edin and had lost that game, he would have fallen into the tiebreaker and faced Whyte then and there!

THIRD END: Homan is the master of the WFG Masters. In the 11 times the women’s division has been held at the event, Homan reached seven finals with four title victories. Only one other women’s skip has won the Masters more than once: Tracy Fleury, who now throws third on Team Homan.

“Unbelievable,” Homan said after winning her record-extending 14th Grand Slam women’s title. “What a team effort to win that one and phenomenal shot-making across the board. Tirinzoni was putting rocks in great spots and coming back in the game after that four, it was tight, and then able to make that last one as a team shot is a great way to go out in 2023.”

It’s also worth noting that while one team has won all three men’s titles in the Grand Slam of Curling this season, there have been three different women’s champions. Team Jennifer Jones took the HearingLife Tour Challenge while Team Eun-Ji Gim claimed the KIOTI National (defeating Homan by a single point in the final no less).

FOURTH END: Hat tip to Team Whyte. The Scottish squad took a huge leap forward reaching its first Grand Slam final, having made it to the semifinal round for the first time earlier this season in the HearingLife Tour Challenge. Whyte’s opponent in that round also happened to be Retornaz. Do you sense a rivalry brewing?

After finishing 2-2 in the round-robin and needing a detour through the tiebreakers, Whyte had a marathon Saturday, knocking off the three teams ahead of him in the world rankings. Whyte eliminated Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin in the 7 a.m. tiebreakers, Canada’s Team Brad Gushue in the afternoon quarterfinals and Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller in the evening semifinals to reach Championship Sunday. Who could sleep after that?

“I reckon in two or three hours I’m just going to absolutely conk out but right now I’m not even thinking about sleep,” a beaming Whyte said. “Just a wee bite to eat, we’ll get rested up and have some good fun.”

Oddly enough, the last skip to go tiebreaker-to-title in the men’s division is Bruce Mouat, who pulled off the feat at the 2017 National and became the youngest men’s skip to win a championship in the series at age 23. The 25-year-old Whyte has served as Mouat’s alternate in the past, so it’s no surprise he came close to following in his footsteps.

Whyte earned praise from Retornaz following their Sunday showdown.

“We knew we were facing a very strong team,” Retornaz said, “and winning with the last shot in the last end shows that both teams were even on the ice even though we always kept a small advantage.”

FIFTH END: Trucks? Trucks. This isn’t the first time we’ve written about a skip’s hat (see Dunstone’s 1997 Calgary Brier leather cap), but Retornaz’s lucky lid was garnering attention, so here’s the story. Before the KIOTI National in Pictou Country, N.S., Retornaz was in Halifax for a couple of days and was strolling through the mall when he came across Donut Media’s Trucks hat in Zumiez.

“I saw a bunch of hats, I liked this one and I bought it,” Retornaz said. “No reason for it. It’s a simple story. It was a good $30 investment.”

Indeed, not that Retornaz needs any more luck. Although, half of everything is luck. (And the other half? Fate.)

SIXTH END: Whyte was one of four Scottish men’s teams competing in the WFG Masters alongside teams skipped by Mouat, James Craik (who just made his top-tier debut at the KIOTI National) and Cameron Bryce (making his top-tier debut here). Add Rebecca Morrison from the women’s division and that’s a record five Scottish teams in a single Grand Slam event. Hey, remember Scotland invented this sport, after all.

Mouat said he was excited to hear five teams had received invitations.

“It just proves that we’re doing something right over in the national curling academy,” he said. “Pretty proud of all of us for working so hard and getting to the Slams.”

Whyte was the last man standing among his compatriots and the only one to qualify for the playoffs. Craik and Bryce started the week 0-3 but both ended things on a high note picking up wins in their final round-robin games. Mouat, second Bobby Lammie and lead Hammy McMillan Jr. played as three without third Grant Hardie, who was recuperating from recent surgery. Mouat went 2-2 but missed out on the tiebreaker game for the eighth and final playoff spot as Whyte and Edin held better draw-to-the-button shootout totals.

“It’s nice to see friendly faces out here,” Whyte said. “Everyone’s a friend and it’s good to be catching up. It’s great to see and hopefully, we can continue that.”

SEVENTH END: Brad is back. Skip Reid Carruthers was looking for a spark on his team as he entered the WFG Masters ranked 16th in the world and on the bubble for future Grand Slam of Curling events. Carruthers certainly sparked something by switching to play third and handing the reins to Brad Jacobs.

Jacobs has been there, done that as a skip — winning Olympic gold and seven Grand Slam titles before joining Team Carruthers full-time this season — and returned to form out the gate, defeating Retornaz. The whole team seemed rejuvenated throwing 93 per cent as a unit against the No. 1 club in the world. (For the record, Retornaz was hat-less during the game.)

A hat-wearing Retornaz took the rematch in the quarterfinals, but qualifying for the playoffs was a huge bounce back for Team Carruthers after going 0-4 through the KIOTI National. It also saved them from missing out on the next Grand Slam as the Winnipeg-based club surged up the world rankings and is now 11th.

EIGHTH END: The Grand Slam of Curling season resumes in the New Year with the Co-op Canadian Open, Jan. 16-21, at Servus Arena in Red Deer, Alta. Full-event and weekend packages plus single draw tickets are now available online at and they make great stocking stuffers. Monday was the qualification cutoff date, so expect invitations to be sent out and a full list of teams to be announced as soon as they RSVP.