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Eight Ends: New Team Einarson already making an impact

OAKVILLE, Ont. — Team Kerri Einarson came to play at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and they sure made their opponents pay.

The new crew from Gimli, Man., stormed through the field to take the women’s title in just their second tournament together. After dropping their first game in an extra end, Team Einarson won seven straight including a 6-0 shutout — scoring all of their points off of steals no less — against Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni during Sunday’s final.

Einarson’s announcement in late February that she was joining forces with former skips Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur raised a Spockian eyebrow or two. Could an “all-skip squad” actually work? Well, here we are just two tournaments into the World Curling Tour season for the club and it’s already paying off.

Einarson could sense something was building once they finally hit the ice for their season-opener two weeks ago at the Granite Club in Winnipeg and it snowballed in Oakville.

“All four of us were just itching to get out on the ice and play together,” Einarson said. “We did at the Granite and came out firing our first two games, we struggled the last two but they were still very close games so we knew then that we’re right in with the other teams.

“We had a week off and then coming into this weekend we were super excited again to be back on the ice. … We just had some unfortunate luck in our first game and ever since then we’ve just been on a roll. We’re firing on all four cylinders, which is good.”

With the dynamic of the team, Einarson values the input from her teammates and feels confident when she calls a shot and receives approval from them.

“I trust their opinion and when I come down and they say they trust that ice, I really believe that the broom is in the right spot,” Einarson said. “It’s really good out there and it feels natural.”

This could be the beginning of something good as they’re coming together like Voltron and forming the super team they’re capable of becoming. They’ve put the rest of the locker room on notice with this victory and it could only get better as they strive to become the best (like no one ever was). Their first major test will come once we see them in action in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series, which will likely happen next month at the Masters.

Here are some other takeaways from the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard:

1st End: Einarson expected Manitoba shuffle

Team Einarson’s roster renovation wasn’t the only one that made noise in Manitoba during the tail end of last season. Other notables include:

– Northern Ontario’s Tracy Fleury linked up with Einarson’s former teammates Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish.

– Ontario’s Allison Flaxey jumped into the mix playing with Kate Cameron, Taylor McDonald and Raunora Westcott.

– Reigning world champion Jennifer Jones also made a switch bringing in Jocelyn Peterman (formerly with Alberta’s Team Chelsea Carey) to take over at second with Jill Officer stepping back into an alternate role.

Einarson wasn’t surprised to see the massive changes go down.

“I was seeing something building up,” Einarson said. “I knew just from hearing things that something was going to happen in Manitoba, which is fine. It’s a tough province, it always has been, so we just have to work hard and stay focused.”

2nd End: Einarson likes Champions Cup chances

Could it be that Team Einarson already has a place locked up in the Humpty’s Champions Cup? Is it possible their Stu Sells Oakville Tankard victory earned them a spot for the year-ending Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event?

Look, I’m not saying they’re already in the Humpty’s Champions Cup but they’re probably already in the Humpty’s Champions Cup. (Alright, that’s enough Ancient Aliens references).

Although there are only a handful of spots available there for World Curling Tour winners, the high strength-of-field number for the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard (7.2036) makes it a likely candidate for one of those berths. In fact, Tirinzoni’s wins at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard earned her a place at the Humpty’s Champions Cup during the past two seasons.

Even if it doesn’t end up as the highest WCT tournament, as we’ve seen in the past there’s also a good chance some teams will win multiple titles over the course of the season or some teams will not be able to make it, unfortunately, thus opening up additional spots to tour winners to complete the 15-team field.

And if you think it’s crazy to be thinking about the season finale already when the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling year hasn’t even started, think again. The teams have it in the backs of their minds all year knowing they have to win something to get in and having a top tournament win in their pocket this soon is huge.

“We were just downstairs talking about that this might get us into Champions Cup, which is good,” Einarson said.

3rd End: Sweeting settling into new role

Sweeting said she’s really enjoying playing third for Team Einarson.

The three-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner from Edmonton has also seen improvements in how the team has played since their opener in Winnipeg as they’re coming together as a cohesive unit.

“We’re all just in it together,” Sweeting said. “We have definitely come a long way from when we were playing in Winnipeg a couple weekends ago until now. I feel a lot better about shot management.

“It’s definitely still going to be a focus going forward. We’re learning a lot and the ice has been so consistent out there that’s it’s been easy to learn and do that, so that’s been great. It’s feeling really natural out there.”

4th End: Captain Kirk fitting into skip’s spot

A bit of a reversal from our previous end as now we turn to Saskatoon’s Kirk Muyres, who moves up from his past roles as a third and second into the skip’s chair.

After Team Steve Laycock dissolved, Muyres and his brother, lead Dallan Muyres, stuck together and added another brother duo, twins Kevin and Dan Marsh, at third and second, respectively.

It has taken “Captain Kirk” some time adjusting to skip though.

“Oh man, the first couple games out on the ice I felt like Bambi,” Muyres said. “It was totally different. I haven’t seen the house like that in 10 or 15 years. It’s a totally different dynamic.”

Muyres added that his teammates have been understanding of his venture into uncharted waters.

“They knew when we got into this that I was the guy they wanted to lead. They’re allowing me to do that and allowing me to make mistakes and they’re supporting me in that process,” Muyres said. “That process is also going to take maybe five years until I get where I need to be as a skip but again, go and play and make that learning curve quick. You take notes after the game and you get better.

“For me, the biggest thing is to learn to call the game creatively to a point that allows us to win. The shot-making sort of thing is a lot of the same, it’s just a little more pressure, which is good, but it’s really all about building that gameplan around something we can be successful with. That’s really what we’re trying to navigate through right now.”

Muyres now heads to China along with Laura Walker to represent Canada in mixed doubles for the first-ever Curling World Cup.

“Laura is a great partner and we win a lot of games,” said Muyres, who earned bronze in last season’s world mixed doubles championship. “We’re still learning at that game. It’s still new for us, we’ve only played four events together but it’s fun. I never expected to get the opportunities I’d get in the mixed doubles portion of curling but I’m just going to take it and run with it because it’s been a boatload of fun.”

5th End: Savill back into swing of things

The Stu Sells Oakville Tankard was the season debut for the new-look Team John Epping. The Toronto squad now includes the dynamic duo of second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill back together again. The pair captured 12 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles during their time on Team Glenn Howard until their paths headed in separate directions in 2014.

Laing joined Team Kevin Koe winning two more Grand Slams, one Brier and world championship each and an appearance for Canada at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Savill stayed with Howard for another season before joining Halifax’s Team Shawn Adams in 2015 until he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was forced to take a break from the game. Once Savill beat his cancer, he returned to the ice the following season with Edmonton’s Team Charley Thomas and served as the alternate last year for Winnipeg’s Team Reid Carruthers during their run to the Olympic Trials.

Now playing in his home province and with his best friend once again, Savill said he was pretty anxious all summer to get back on the ice and it felt like he had never left.

“It was very comfortable,” Savill said. “That was one thing that we talked about, just the four of us being on the ice together, was being comfortable. Things went fairly smoothly and there’s obviously some room for improvement here and there. Overall, it went well.”

Savill, like most leads, is known for chirping his opponents on the ice and this past weekend was no different.

“I had to speed up a few guys,” Savill said with a smile. “There’s a lot of slow play out there. These eight-end games were going two-and-a-half [hours] or two-forty. I had to speed some guys up.”

6th End: Dunstone doubles up for playoffs

Team Matt Dunstone may be heading home without any titles but they’re not walking away empty-handed. The Regina-based squad fell to Switzerland’s Team Jan Hess 8-3 in the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard quarterfinals but gained some more valuable points after also finishing runner-up the previous weekend at the very same club for the Oakville Fall Classic.

Qualifying in back-to-back tournaments isn’t too shabby for a brand new team hungry to accumulate as many points as possible early into the season to rise up the rankings.

“It was good,” Team Dunstone third Braeden Moskowy said. “Obviously, two disappointing losses where we kind of got blown out of the water and just weren’t sharp early but all in all, new team who haven’t had a time to practise together yet, we’re 10-2 and if you had told me at the start of these two weeks we would take it but just a disappointing end. We played great again this weekend. It’s too bad to go out like that but good start overall in the grand scheme of things.”

7th End: Team Harrison pleased with performance

When Flaxey’s former teammates — third Clancy Grandy, second Lynn Kreviazuk and lead Morgan Court — were looking for a new skip, they believed they found the missing piece with Jacqueline Harrison.

So far, so good as they made the playoffs in Oakville to start the year.

“We’re starting off the season with three tournaments in a row so able to qualify in the first one is really exciting,” said Kreviazuk, who won the 2016 Masters with Team Flaxey. “Of course, three of us have played together for many years but to bring Jacqueline on board, she fit the skip role really well this weekend and we meshed pretty well, obviously having made the quarterfinals and a close game against Einarson there. It really could have gone either way maybe towards the end, so really happy with how this weekend went over.”

Team Harrison is in a similar position to Team Dunstone where they’re on the outside-looking-in for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling and are aiming to work their way into the elite series.

“We’re going to try to be able to do well in local tournaments that hopefully we can position ourselves for the Grand Slam events,” Kreviazuk said. “We know we’ll be in Thunder Bay [for November’s Tour Challenge], whether it be the Tier 1 or the Tier 2. … It’ll be an interesting year. We’re just trying to position ourselves well enough after the start of the year.”

It also helps Ontario has a bevy of tournaments at the start of the season giving Team Harrison the opportunity to bank some points early without having to venture too far and rack up expenses.

“We’re really fortunate there are a lot of events locally,” Kreviazuk said. “As a new team we’re not interested in travelling too much too soon so it’s nice we’re able to come up the road and play in a lot of tournaments early.”

8th End: Tirinzoni connecting with new teammates

Tirinzoni entered the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard as the double defending champion but sported a different roster this time around. Former rival skip Alina Paetz now tosses fourth rocks for the Swiss squad (Tirinzoni calls the game while throwing third in the order) and Melanie Barbezat has also exchanged skip duties to play lead.

Team Tirinzoni was on a tear with a five-game winning streak (until coming to a grinding halt against Einarson) and their skip was surprised with how quickly the team was able to connect.

“It’s a very nice chemistry,” said Tirinzoni, who represented Switzerland at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. “We’ve been practising for two months together and it feels like we’ve been playing for two years now. It feels great. It’s a lot of fun being around those girls and I’m so looking forward to the next few years.”

American Jamie Sinclair also entered the season with a revamped roster bringing in twins Sarah and Taylor Anderson at second and alternate, respectively.

“They just have such a great passion for the game, great energy and they’re sharpshooters,” said Sinclair, who captured the Players’ Championship last season. “I’m excited to bring them on board and hopefully we can carry the momentum we had at the end of last season onwards into this season.”