TORONTO — A stunning surge late into the week at the Players’ Championship has powered Team Kerri Einarson into the women’s final.
The club from Gimli, Man., had gone on a three-game losing skid to slip to a 1-3 record and were on the very of early elimination in the prestigious Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling major tournament.
Einarson managed to reverse course in the right direction winning three straight heading into Sunday’s championship game against Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The turnaround began with their final round-robin game Friday scoring a 7-2 victory over Team Casey Scheidegger. Their 2-3 record was good enough to play at least another game and they avoided tiebreakers thanks to a superior draw-to-the-button shootout.
Team Einarson prevailed 6-4 over Manitoba rivals Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul earlier Saturday in the quarterfinals and topped Team Robyn Silvernagle of North Battleford, Sask., 7-4 during the evening semifinals draw.
“It’s pretty crazy at the Players’ a losing record can put you into playoffs,” Team Einarson third Val Sweeting said. “A really good field here. We were happy to make playoffs after mid-week with how it was going.”
Sweeting, who won three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles as a skip, added that even in the games they lost they felt like they were playing well.
“I think that was just the key was those one or two things that we could do differently and I think that we’ve done that since then,” she said. “I’m really proud of the girls and things feel really good out there.”
Einarson formed a new team this season with former skips Sweeting, Shannon Birchard at second and Briane Meilleur at lead. They won four consecutive titles early in the year on the World Curling Tour and finished runner-up at the Boost National.
They entered the Players’ Championship following a lengthy layoff and a couple of heartbreaking defeats falling in the Manitoba Scotties final to Fleury in January and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts wild-card game to Scheidegger back in February.
“It’s good to see after a break that we’ve really picked it up and we’re in another final,” Sweeting said. “Hoping to learn from the other finals we’ve been in and put on a great performance tomorrow.”
Sweeting praised the electric crowd on hand at the historic venue formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens.
“Playing in this facility is amazing and the crowd’s been fantastic, especially tonight,” she said. “It was unreal out there. Just want to put together a good game tomorrow and hopefully, it goes our way.”
Silvernagle, who was playing in her first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling semifinal, opened with the hammer but was forced to draw for a single in the first while facing two counters.
Einarson made a spectacular shot in the third end to jump into the lead by sailing through the narrow port of guards to rub and roll in for a deuce.
“Oh my goodness, that deuce was huge and we said before she threw, this is the only way she gives us (a shot),” Sweeting said. “We didn’t really have a shot for two so we were very fortunate to have it. She just nailed it. All I thought was don’t mess up the line call. She threw it really good.”
After another force in four, Einarson delivered an open hit for two in the fifth to make it a 4-2 game. Silvernagle tied it up in the sixth and drew for shot rock in the seventh, but Einarson followed the path to pop it out and score the decisive three-pointer.
“They were setting up a really good end in six. We had an unfortunate pick on mine,” Sweeting said. “We didn’t get anything out of the shot but we just bounced back. They earned their deuce and just did all we could in seven.
“I think we just kept our rocks in good spots and waited for our chances. We didn’t get very many. They’re a good team, they’re playing well. We just kept putting ourselves in a position to win the game, make shots and stayed calm. I think our season has kind of allowed us to do that.”
Team Hasselborg has been on a roll as well, sans losing streak, as they made it seven straight wins in the Players’ Championship to reach the final. The undefeated reigning Olympic gold medallists edged Scheidegger, from Lethbridge, Alta., 5-4 in the other semifinal.
It’s the third Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling final this season for Team Hasselborg, who kicked off their 2018-19 campaign capturing their first couple titles in the series back-to-back at the Princess Auto Elite 10 and Canadian Beef Masters.
Hasselborg will start with the hammer and Sweeting said getting a handle of the ice early will be key to gaining control of the match.
“The ice has been pretty good all week, so I’m sure it’ll be the same tomorrow,” she said. “Whatever it is, just figure it out early and do what we can. Just keep making shots out there.”
It’s a Battle of Alberta on the men’s side as Calgary’s Kevin Koe and Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher clash in their final. Koe clipped Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland 9-8 in an extra end while Bottcher beat Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson 7-4.
The semifinal victory for Koe also secured the Pinty’s Cup and the $75,000 bonus. Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan took home the Pinty’s Cup women’s title earlier in the week.
The men’s final is scheduled for Sunday at Noon ET followed by the women’s final at 4 p.m. ET. Both games air on Sportsnet 360 with the women’s final also on the main Sportsnet channels. Online streaming is available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).
A $300,000 purse, split equally between the men’s and women’s division, is on the line with the winning teams collecting $30,000 each.
The Players’ Championship is the penultimate 2018-19 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event with the season concluding at the Humpty’s Champions Cup, April 23-28, in Saskatoon.