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Fujisawa wins Co-op Canadian Open to become first GSOC champion from Asia

CAMROSE, Alta. — History was made at the Co-op Canadian Open as Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa became the first Asian-based club to capture a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title.

Fujisawa fended off five-time Grand Slam champion Kerri Einarson 5-3 during the women’s final Sunday at Encana Arena.

The foursome of Fujisawa, third Chinami Yoshida, second Yumi Suzuki and lead Yurika Yoshida earned $33,000 from the prize purse plus 12 Pinty’s Cup points.

“It was one of our big goals in curling,” Chinami Yoshida said with a smile. “We won two Olympic medals and one world championship medal but we hadn’t advanced to the Grand Slam final. We took maybe seven years but we did it today, so it feels so amazing.”

Calgary’s J.D. Lind has coached them since they made the jump out of juniors a decade ago — “when they were very much just raw talent and developing,” he said — and has seen them climb every step from winning silver at the world championship to bronze and silver medals at the Olympics and now a Grand Slam title.

“This was always something that you dream of doing,” Lind said. “To think that we finally won a Grand Slam, it’s an amazing accomplishment, it’s really tough to do.

“I think when you are a Japanese team and nobody has ever done it before, it’s really difficult to be the first. Even if you know you’re good enough, to be the first is always very difficult because you never fully believe it until it happens. Hopefully, now that we’ve done it we’ll see even more Pacific-Asia teams excel at the Slams.”

Team Fujisawa was on fire all week finishing with a perfect 6-0 win-loss record and shooting 91 per cent as a unit during the final.

“The Grand Slams tournaments are one of the highest competitions in the world, so that’s why it feels so weird that we’re champions right now,” Chinami Yoshida said.

She added: “For all of the Japanese curlers, it’s kind of a dream to be a champion of the Grand Slams but right now, it’s not just a dream, it’s a goal. I hope that not just us but maybe every Japanese team coming to the Grand Slams can compete at this amazing competition together.”

Lind said playing consistently was the key and pointed to their second game of the triple knockout preliminary round against Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni when they were down by three points entering the eighth end and rallied to win in an extra frame that gave them a confidence boost that they carried through to the end.

“Satsuki made this really difficult split for three to force the extra end and that turned the whole week around,” Lind said. “After that, we stole the extra end and from there we had so much confidence. That’s something for this team that has always been their biggest strength. They can come back, they’re never out of it and they always have a positive attitude. For us this week, that really was the turning point and really propelled us to this.”

It was the record sixth consecutive Grand Slam women’s final for Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Harris. The Gimli, Man., club claimed $20,000 and nine Pinty’s Cup points after rallying Saturday to score three consecutive wins with elimination on the line.

Fujisawa’s unblemished record meant her team started the final with the hammer. The two-point conversion was good as Fujisawa jumped out of the gate scoring a deuce and never relinquished the lead.

“We knew we were going to start with the hammer, which is big against them,” Lind said. “It’s always a lot easier when you have a lead even if you just take one in the first end. To get two in the first end was pretty much ideal. Then after that, you’re always just assessing how much risk you have and try to limit her chances because she’s always not only looking for those shots but she makes a lot of them.”

The second end could have flipped the script, however, as Einarson was looking to make a double takeout to score three. Instead, Einarson fell behind 3-0 as she missed the back counter to give up a steal.

It looked like Einarson had pulled off the runback double to score four in the fourth end. The brooms were raised and the crowd roared, however, a jam at the back meant Einarson only scored a single.

Fujisawa’s double in the fifth end reestablished the three-point advantage.

Einarson narrowed the gap to 4-3 in the sixth. Although Fujisawa sat six rocks in the rings, only one of them really mattered and Einarson easily bopped it out to count a deuce.

Another single for Fujisawa in the seventh handed the hammer over to Einarson in the eighth, needing at least two points to force an extra end. Einarson was light and tight on her first skip stone, allowing Fujisawa to sit two tricky rocks. Although Einarson called a time-out and gave it a long look for a possible Hail Mary equalizer, she instead conceded the match and the championship.

“We’ve played her probably 10 times this year. Today we got a few misses on some of those big shots but normally she makes a ton of them,” Lind said. “They’re a great team and to beat them for our first Slam win is super fitting because we’ve lost a lot of games to them this year, they’re the best team in the world, so to beat them is just icing on the cake, for sure. It’s definitely a dream come true.”

Team Fujisawa also had a contingent of fans in attendance cheering them on that made the win extra special.

“Many Japanese fans who live in Canada come to watch our games, even from so far,” Chinami Yoshida said. “I am so happy to win in front of lots of Japanese fans here.”

Einarson’s quest to complete a career Grand Slam will have to wait another year. She has won the other three majors in the series with just the Co-op Canadian Open to check off from the list.

Earlier, Calgary’s Team Brendan Bottcher won the Co-op Canadian Open men’s title by an identical 5-3 score over Team Niklas Edin from Sweden.


The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season resumes with the Princess Auto Players’ Championship, April 11-16, at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.