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Eight Ends: Koe sees Players’ Championship win as ‘starting point’ for more

Eight Ends is your source for insight and analysis from the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour. This edition looks at takeaways from the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

FIRST END: It used to be you couldn’t leave Kevin Koe a shot to win. Now, you just can’t leave Koe a shot, period.

Koe pulled off the impossible (well, impossible for us mere mortals at least) by scoring three points for the win in the semifinals against Brad Gushue on Saturday night and then again in the final against Yannick Schwaller on Sunday to win the Princess Auto Players’ Championship at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Koe fired a slash double takeout to score three against Gushue and a triple takeout against Schwaller.

Never mind Koe was close to running out of thinking time on both occasions but that’s par for the course with him.

SECOND END: You couldn’t blame Team Koe second Brad Thiessen for setting a world high-jump record after pulling off the victory. Thiessen is now stepping back from competitive curling to spend more time with his family and ended this chapter of his playing days on a high note.

“Kinda funny going into this, I didn’t have like super high expectations but just things really worked out,” Thiessen said. “The angles worked out our way and we had a few really nice shots to end a few games there. I mean, you’ve got to have a bit of luck to win these things, for sure. We played well as a team and it’s pretty cool to go off on a win here. I’m really happy about that.”

THIRD END: With Thiessen hanging up his broom for now, Jacques Gauthier will join Team Koe at second next season. Gauthier skipped B.C. at the Brier this year and is cousins with third Tyler Tardi.

Even this season saw a revamped Team Koe roster with Tardi, Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin all coming on board.

Although you could chalk it up as a rebuilding year, Team Koe managed to finish runners-up in three fall tour events and won provincial playdowns to represent Alberta in the Brier. Koe went 7-1 through pool play but was eliminated in the page qualifier against Ontario’s Mike McEwen.

“We had a pretty good fall, we had a couple slip-ups in the December and January Slams, but then we had a really good provincials obviously, winning that,” Koe said. “We had a really good Brier. We played well that we could have been in the mix. We just lost the one playoff game that knocked us out, but if we win that we have another couple lives.

“For this team, none of us had really played with each other or knew each other and figuring everything out that goes with a new team, I think this will just be the starting point. I see a lot of potential for this team and I’ll be excited for next year.”

FOURTH END: It’s always special to win your first Grand Slam title but to do it in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship against the toughest field on tour is something else.

Sweden’s Isabella Wranå defeated Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni 6-5 in the women’s final to capture her first Grand Slam championship. Since 2015, when the series expanded, only one other skip has won their first at the Players’ Championship: Jamie Sinclair in 2018.

Consider the final a bit of redemption as well. Wranå finished the week with an impressive 6-1 record with her lone loss coming against Tirinzoni in pool play on a steal in an extra end.

FIFTH END: Wranå and her team were using Goldline’s Impact broom Pride design this week. They also support the United We Curl initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the sport.

“It means so much,” Wranå said. “We like to support and be a part of this community as good as we can and be good role models for the next generation of curlers to come so everyone feels included in sports.”

A close-up of Goldline’s Impact broom with the Pride design during the Princess Auto Players’ Championship on Saturday, April 15, 2023, in Toronto. (Photo Credit: Anil Mungal)

SIXTH END: You’ll have to excuse Team Gushue if they’re not at their best. They’ve been gone for a month, they’ve been curling since they left. Apologies for butchering the lyrics to “Home for a Rest” but that more-or-less describes how things have been going for them.

Gushue’s St. John’s, N.L., crew had a whirlwind week winning a fifth Brier with a short break before earning silver medals at the world championship and then heading straight to Toronto for the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

Half of the men’s field actually arrived straight from the worlds in Ottawa, so they weren’t the only ones who were experiencing a bit of fatigue. Still, for Team Gushue sometimes just being good is good enough. They went 4-1 in pool play as the b’ys secured a bye to the semifinals before they were Koe’d out in the final four.

Gushue kicked off the 2022-23 Grand Slam season by capturing the Boost National and earned enough points along the way to clinch the Pinty’s Cup. Although Gushue tied Sweden’s Niklas Edin at the top of the table, the team with the better finish in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship gets the trophy.

Edin was eliminated in the quarterfinals losing to Schwaller. The only other team left in the running for the Pinty’s Cup at that point was Joël Retornaz, who would have needed to beat Koe in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship final to accumulate enough points to surpass Gushue. It also had to be against Koe because if Gushue won the semifinals, he would have automatically locked up the Pinty’s Cup that way, too.

Considering Schwaller knocked out Retornaz in the semis as well, Gushue should probably send him a “thank you” note.

SEVENTH END: The Princess Auto Players’ Championship was the first time the series had a women’s final without Kerri Einarson since the Boost National … of November 2021. Einarson’s club from Gimli, Man., had reached a record six consecutive Grand Slam women’s finals entering the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

Team Einarson got out to a rough start this week at 0-2, including a 13-0 loss to Clancy Grandy, but won three straight and had strong enough shootout scores to qualify for the playoffs and avoid the tiebreakers. They may have run out of fuel in the semifinals, losing 10-3 in five ends to Wranå, but their impressive season as a whole allowed them to secure the Pinty’s Cup earlier with their 6-5 victory over Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa in the quarterfinals.

“The way our week started, it didn’t look like we were going to make it but I’m so proud of the team and myself,” Einarson said. “We pulled out a lot of big wins and really grinded out there. We didn’t come out with a really great game today (in the semifinals). The ice was a little different than what we expected, but Wranå played really well.”

EIGHTH END: Tirinzoni also began the week at 0-2, but the four-time reigning world champion and her team regained their gold medal-winning form by rattling off three straight wins to finish pool play. Unlike Einarson though, they still had to play a tiebreaker and doubled their win total over the course of Saturday alone in order to reach the final.

“The last three games were way better than the start we had,” Team Tirinzoni fourth Alina Pätz said Friday after pool play concluded. “We had trouble at the beginning of the tournament to come back to our normal level. We didn’t have a lot of time on the ice the last two weeks, so we took a rest after the worlds. It took us some time to get back to 100 per cent but we’re getting better and better.”

Swiss compatriots Team Schwaller also deserve some credit for reaching their first Grand Slam final after just making their first semis as well. Like with Gushue though, what can you do when you get Koe’d?

EXTRA END: Curling Canada presented its Awards of Achievement on Wednesday to Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events director Kristi Petrushchak and senior events manager Jennifer Kjell. The two have run the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling for more than a decade, even before Sportsnet purchased the series in 2012, and have been instrumental in not only expanding the series but also ensuring all events feature equality between the men’s and women’s division.

“I couldn’t be prouder of both of them,” said Rob Corte, vice-president of Sportsnet and NHL productions. “They’re tremendous assets, tremendous ambassadors for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. They care about the curlers, they care about the sport, they care about the tour. They just take care of everything. They do everything from setting up the venues to taping down carpets to making sure every little detail is taken care of for the curlers.

“They are two of the biggest stars of this group and of course now with (events manager) Jennifer Cram, who has also come on board, she’s added a third dimension to this group. They’re just as world-class as you can imagine. This award is so richly deserved, and I’m so proud of them.”

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling family was on hand to congratulate events director Kristi Petrushchak and senior events manager Jennifer Kjell for receiving Curling Canada’s Awards of Achievement during the Princess Auto Players’ Championship on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Toronto.