News Tour Challenge

Eight Ends: Jacobs’ mindset adjustment key to rebound

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — You never know when you’re going to win your next one, as cliche as it sounds, but it was 18 long hard months of still struggling between Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles for Team Brad Jacobs.

Everything from the Humpty’s Champions Cup in April 2017 to now had finally boiled over at the Tour Challenge with the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., squad defeating Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher 6-5 in Sunday’s Tier 1 men’s final.

There was something off with the team two weeks prior at the Canadian Beef Masters, especially during their final round-robin game when they had already been eliminated from contention. Team Jacobs checked out after only four ends falling 7-1 to GSOC rookies Team Yannick Schwaller to finish winless at 0-4.

Things could have continued down that path to start at the Tour Challenge as they began pool play against eventual finalist Bottcher and were tied without the hammer in the final frame. The double takeout was lined up but Bottcher missed the back one and Jacobs escaped with a victory to snap the losing streak.

Watching the team from the Canadian Beef Masters to the Tour Challenge was night and day. They appeared more relaxed and didn’t let their 3-1 loss to Team Kevin Koe to close out pool play rattle them heading into the playoffs. It also helped they were playing in their region, Northern Ontario, and fed off of the energy from the capacity crowd at Tournament Centre.

There was a slight hiccup in the seventh end during the final leading to a steal, however, Jacobs conceded the point throwing his last away as with the five-rock rule it’s actually advantageous to be down one with the hammer in the last end. Even a half-miss from the other team opens the door for a deuce. Sure enough, it worked out with Jacobs hitting to score two for the win and his fourth career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship.

“We played great all week,” Jacobs said. “To be able to finish this off and have the patience that we had, especially after playing that last end after a little bit of a sloppy seventh, it feels great to close the deal.

“It’s been a long time for our team since we’ve won anything and winning never gets old. It’s an unbelievable feeling and it’s just great to feel this way once again and hopefully, we can grab a few more of these this season.”

Team Jacobs has been working closely with mental coach Adam Kingsbury, who was with Team Rachel Homan during the past three seasons before they parted ways. Kingsbury was spotted with Team Jacobs during the Shorty Jenkins Classic in September — where they finished runners-up to Team John Epping — and he was on the bench this past week for a trial run.

Although Jacobs hasn’t made it official yet (stay tuned), the union makes perfect sense. The 2014 Olympic gold medallists obviously know what they’re doing on the ice strategy-wise — and their physical game needs no questioning either — but their mental game needed an adjustment and Kingsbury, who is a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, fits the bill.

“I think I speak for all four of us when I say that he was amazing this week,” Jacobs said. “He really helped us out in a lot of ways, especially with patience, our thinking, our overall mindset, our mental toughness. He’s got a lot of experience in the field of psychology and that’s really where we need the most help. It’s not physically, it’s not how we throw the rock, it’s all mindset. He was awesome this week and we can really attribute this victory here a lot to Adam.”

Here are more notes and takeaways from the Tour Challenge:

1st End: Homan on the right track in GSOC

It was troubling times in the GSOC at this point last year for Ottawa’s Team Homan with the club missing the playoffs in back-to-back events to start the 2017-18 season. Right now, they appear to be in mid-season form with consecutive finals appearances and a title win Sunday. Team Homan defeated Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., 8-4 to run the Tier 1 women’s table with a 7-0 record.

“After last season, we really tried to come into this season and play tough but also enjoy it out here,” Team Homan third Emma Miskew said. “I mean, we’re really lucky. The last two events, we’re like, we’re in the playoffs, and then we didn’t have to go backs against the wall in our last game. We’re so grateful that we’re in this position. It’s been a lot of just enjoying the moment and trying our best to get better. It feels really good.”

Stretching back to the end of last season even and adding their Humpty’s Champions Cup victory to the conversation, that’s two titles and three finals in the past four GSOC events.

“We battled tough all week,” said Miskew, whose team lost to Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg in the Canadian Beef Masters final. “It’s nice, after the last one especially, to come off and win the next one after the Masters, it’s great.”

Team Homan’s eight championships now sit just one behind Team Jennifer Jones for the most among women’s teams in the series.

The title victory also represents the “one that got away” when they fell in the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 1 women’s final to Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni in 2015. The fog rolled into Paradise, N.L., and plagued their playing conditions with Homan needing to throw her last rock of the game through the haze and giving up a steal of two.

Team Homan provided the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling with Instagram video updates during their week at the Tour Challenge. Follow the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling on Instagram by clicking here to check them out.

2nd End: Pinty’s Cup-date

Previous Pinty’s Cup men’s points leaders Team Epping only earned one win (thus one point) to their total and Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s retook the top spot with their quarterfinal finish. Gushue’s crew will be looking to stretch the gap at next month’s BOOST National right in their own backyard of Conception Bay South, N.L.

Team Hasselborg was neutral this week to prepare for the upcoming European Championships and Homan was able to leapfrog for No. 1 on the women’s side. Still, we’re only halfway there plus the Players’ Championship offers roughly double points across the board, so we’re not even close to being finished here.

“It’s hard to think too far ahead for that,” Miskew said. “It’s kind of like stay close and then whoever does well at the Players’ is probably going to get it. We just wanted to make sure we’re still in the running this year because last year we weren’t even close. At least this year we know we’re somewhat in the ballpark and hopefully, we have a chance at it.”

The top four teams with the most bonus points following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship earn extra cash with the winning teams collecting $75,000.

3rd End: Hard work pays off for Team Muyres

Saskatoon’s Kirk Muyres is still a newbie when it comes to skipping and has a long way to go before he catches up with some of the top leaders but he’s closing the gap at an alarming pace.

The all-new Team Muyres came into the Tour Challenge Tier 2 on a roll with runner-up results at the Medicine Hat Curling Classic and DEKALB Superspiel and continued that ascent at the Tour Challenge Tier 2 posting a perfect 7-0 record.

“It’s huge and it’s never-ending,” Muyres said. “We’re always trying to get better and we’re always going to be working hard. That’s what we like to do but it feels really good to just sit back now and enjoy this win.

“We went 7-0 here, we went 6-1 last week, we’re playing some really good curling and that’s the fun part is when you can sit back and just dominate. That’s fun curling so hopefully, we can continue to do that.”

Although they now earn a promotion to the Meridian Canadian Open right up the road from them in North Battleford, Sask., their strong start to the season fast-tracked their arrival to the elite as they’ll make their top-tier debut a month earlier than expected at the BOOST National. The major tournament will also serve as a major test for Muyres and his ability to prove his team belongs among the world’s best.

The Tier 2 victory may also earn Team Muyres one of the World Curling Tour spots for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup, which happens to take place in their hometown.

4th End: Sickest shot of the week

Team Homan second Joanne Courtney called it the shot of the year so far and who are we to doubt her?

Homan held the hammer in the extra end of the semifinals against Team Nina Roth but needed a little house-cleaning from third Emma Miskew to open things up. Miskew peeled the top guard and caused a chain reaction as it connected to take out two more rocks along with it. You know you’ve made a great shot when even your opponent gives you props.

5th End: We the North

Winning a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title is special any time, but the cherry on top for Jacobs was capturing the Tour Challenge Tier 1 men’s championship on Northern Ontario ice.

Thunder Bay has been the centre of Northern Ontario curling since the days of “The Iceman” Al Hackner and Heather Houston skipping their squads to world championships plus a thriving club curling scene that supports the sport and it showed this week. The stands at Tournament Centre were packed with full houses for most of the draws.

“Any time we get a chance to play in Northern Ontario, it’s always special,” Jacobs said after the semifinals. “Northern Ontario is our home; We’re Northern Ontario boys. Obviously, we’ve played in Grand Slams in Sault Ste. Marie in the past and those have been a great experience. If there’s another city that we’d like to play in other than Sault Ste. Marie, it’s probably Thunder Bay.

“As everybody knows from Northern Ontario, I would say Thunder Bay is kind of the heartbeat of Northern Ontario curling and has been for decades. It’s a special place to curl out of because the fans are so well-educated and there are a ton of curling fans in Thunder Bay and just a ton of recreational curlers.”

Hometown heroes Team Krista McCarville managed to squeak into the Tier 1 women’s division and received the largest and loudest support. Even though they missed the playoffs they managed to grab a silver lining by winning their last round-robin game over Team Casey Scheidegger to end on a high note.

“We haven’t gotten an event in a long time, so it’s awesome to see sold out,” McCarville said. “Most of the draws have been sold out, especially the evening draws. Just to look up and see it’s super-packed with people standing, that’s awesome for Thunder Bay.”

Although Tracy Fleury is skipping a Manitoba-based squad now, she’s their out-of-province import and still calls Sudbury, Ont., home.

“It’s nice playing in Northern Ontario,” Fleury said. “It’s always fun and the crowd has been great.”

6th End: Fleury ready to represent Canada

The forecast called for flurries in more ways than one. While the Thunder Bay area received a dusting of snow during the week, Team Fleury was in control winning six straight until running into Homan in the final.

The Tour Challenge has been good to third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish in the past with two Tier 2 title victories when they played with Kerri Einarson before linking up with Fleury at the start of this season.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Fleury said. “I think we’ve come a long way and it’s a great week for us. It’s good experience for us playing in a final and feeling optimistic about the rest of the season.”

Team Fleury will represent Canada next month at the Curling World Cup tournament in Omaha, Neb. Although this means they’ll miss out on competing in the Canada Cup, it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

“We’re really excited about it,” Fleury said. “It’s something a little bit different and really looking forward to wearing the Maple Leaf. We can’t wait.”

7th End: Quick hits

– Team Elena Stern of Switzerland emerged victorious in the Tour Challenge Tier 2 women’s field to continue what could be her crew’s breakout season on tour. Stern, who edged Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura 6-5 in the final, also won the Women’s Masters Basel championship earlier this season and was a semifinalist at the DEKALB Superspiel and Oakville Fall Classic events.

– Gushue and Winnipeg’s Team Jones entered the Canadian Beef Masters jet-lagged from racing over from China and with a week’s rest we expected them to improve upon their quarterfinal results from two weeks ago. Well, both Gushue and Jones qualified for the Tour Challenge playoffs with strong round-robin results … and were knocked out in the quarterfinals once again. Roth eliminated Jones while Team Glenn Howard ousted Gushue.

– Toronto’s Team Epping couldn’t maintain the momentum from their Canadian Beef Masters title victory as they won their opening round-robin game and then lost three straight to miss the playoffs. Winnipeg’s Team Reid Carruthers also stumbled to a 1-3 finish as the Princess Auto Elite 10 runners-up did not qualify for the second consecutive GSOC event.

– The Tour Challenge was the GSOC season debut for Team Bottcher and they made up for lost time reaching the final. Only Jacobs, twice, could solve them this week.

8th End: Up next

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour continues with the fourth event, and second major, of the season: the BOOST National running Dec. 11-16 in Conception Bay South, N.L.

We’re expecting another full house with all-event passes selling out in only a couple of days. Invitations are in the mail, so expect the lineup of teams to be announced in the near future.

Broadcast coverage begins Dec. 13 on Sportsnet with online streaming available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).