Team Kerri Einarson successfully defended the Princess Auto Players’ Championship women’s title with a 5-2 victory over Team Rachel Homan in Sunday’s thrilling final at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.
It’s the third Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title for Einarson, from Gimli, Man., and her second with third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur.
Einarson cashed in $40,000 from the combined $350,000 CAD purse. The Ottawa-based team of Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Sarah Wilkes and lead Joanne Courtney claimed $25,000.
“It’s awesome,” Birchard said. “We knew going into the final that it was going to be a tough game. Homan’s team always gives us a great game. We really wanted to build some big momentum for next week and defend our title, so it feels pretty awesome to be able to do that.”
Team Einarson captured the 2019 Players’ Championship at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre. The event was not held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and took place this year inside a hub city bubble concept closed to the general public.
“It’s a little different just because of the whole bubble situation,” Birchard said. “We’re so thankful and grateful to have been able to play in these two events and for the Grand Slams making them happen. It’s always an amazing feeling to win a big event like this and to cap off the Grand Slam season with a win is pretty awesome.”
It was Homan’s second Grand Slam final in less than a week after she won her record-extending 11th women’s title this past Monday at the Humpty’s Champions Cup. Homan gave birth to daughter Bowyn exactly one month ago and never missed a game of women’s play.
In a way, it was a finale in a best-of-five series between the top two teams in Canada. Einarson and Homan faced off four times previously in the bubble winning two games apiece. Einarson beat Homan 9-7 in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final in February to also repeat as champion there.
Both teams came to play although Team Einarson held the edge shooting 91 per cent as a unit with Sweeting scoring a perfect 100 while Team Homan shot 79 per cent.
The women’s final was aggressive right from the get-go. Einarson opened with the hammer and caught a late break in the first when Homan was looking to hit a partially buried shot rock but connected with her own guard allowing the two-time reigning Canadian champion to draw for a deuce to start. Homan was a little heavy on her last in the second, rubbed and rolled off of Einarson’s shot rock to give up a steal and fall behind 3-0.
“We’ve met up with them quite a few times and we know them pretty well,” Birchard said. “We just had to come out strong. We had the hammer in the first end, which was big. Just getting that deuce early put us in a really great control position for the game.”
That three-point advantage proved to be too much to overcome. Einarson was able to chisel out Homan’s rock with her last in the third end to sit two and force her opponent into hitting for just a single to get on the board. A draw to the button for one by Einarson in the fourth re-established the three-point gap at 4-1 heading into the halftime break.
Although Einarson sat three stones in the house in the fifth end all down the centre line, Homan was able to line them up and fired a rocket with her last to clean the house to blank.
The teams alternated singles in six and seven. Einarson maintained control without the hammer coming home in eight with tons of granite in the house and just needed an open hit to run Homan out of rocks.
One of the key shots in the final frame was a double peel from Birchard that also spilled her shooter into the house to clear out the corner guards and put the pressure on Team Homan.
“It was pretty awesome,” Birchard said. “I kind of figured we could make it either way. I was trying to hit the other one first but it hung out, called the audible on it and it worked out really well.”
Team Einarson are sticking around in the bubble as they’ll finally get the opportunity to represent Canada in the world women’s curling championship, which begins Friday. Last year’s event was cancelled right before it was about to begin and Birchard can’t wait to put the Maple Leaf on her back again.
“It’s going to be amazing,” said Birchard, who captured gold for Canada in 2018 as the alternate for Jennifer Jones. “I think we’re so excited to be able to wear our jerseys this time. The bubble’s been super safe so far and we’re just so confident that things are going to go well next week. We’re just going to try and carry on and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Humpty’s Champions Cup winners Team Bruce Mouat of Scotland defeated Team Brad Gushue from St. John’s, N.L., 6-5 in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship men’s final for a double bubble sweep. Team Mouat posted a perfect 7-0 record and altogether were an outstanding 13-1 through both events.