Ottawa’s Rachel Homan wants to be the very best like no one ever was and to catch all Grand Slam titles is her real test this week at the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.
Just three weeks after giving birth to daughter Bowyn, Homan capped a remarkable run through the Humpty’s Champions Cup claiming her record-extending 11th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title. Homan now has an opportunity to re-write the history books again this week at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.
The prestigious Princess Auto Players’ Championship, which began Tuesday afternoon in the bubble, is the last on the list in the series for Homan to cross off. Capturing that trophy would make her the first women’s skip to sweep all six event titles in the series. Only Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., has completed the feat in the men’s division.
“It would be awesome to get more games in as a team and to get to another final would be phenomenal,” Homan said Monday night after defeating Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni 6-3 in the Humpty’s Champions Cup women’s final. “We haven’t won it yet, so it’s definitely a goal of ours. It would be a great end to this season together as a team. We don’t know what we’re walking into next year, so that would mean a lot to us, absolutely.”
Team Homan must prepare for trouble (and make it double) with an identical field of stiff competition featuring 11 other top teams competing in the world-class event.
“This is the big one when it comes to the Slam circuit,” Team Homan lead Joanne Courtney said. “They’re all big but there’s definitely a lot of emphasis on this one. The competition is extremely tough. We’re hoping to put ourselves into the position to be in the playoffs at the end of the week but we know that it’s going to take a lot to get there. We’re just going to continue doing what we’ve been doing, keep reaching, pushing and trying to get better with every game and hopefully, we’ll end up on the right side of it.”
Homan skipped the squad to a silver medal finish in February’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts while eight months pregnant. She never missed a game of women’s play alongside Courtney, second Sarah Wilkes and third Emma Miskew.
“It feels incredible,” Homan said. “I’m really proud of my team for playing so well all week. Coming off this kind of year where we couldn’t practise basically between the Scotties and the Slams, it’s definitely an incredible feeling to be able to pull off a win and playing so well as well.”
It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Team Homan after parting ways with longtime lead Lisa Weagle at the end of last season. Courtney moved down from second to lead to allow the addition of Wilkes, who previously played with Calgary’s Chelsea Carey.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out almost the entire tour — Team Homan got in all of one game in the fall in Okotoks, Alta. — and their first full event with the new-look lineup came in the Canadian women’s curling championship to start the bubble slate of events.
“Curling is such a small sport, so whenever you make a player change, it changes the whole dynamic of the team,” Courtney said. “We’re taking that as an opportunity to rebuild everything, take a look at how we run everything and try to make sure we’re getting the most out of every position.
“Really, we don’t know what the fall is going to look like. There’s so much uncertainty right now, so we have to make the most of every time we step on the ice. The fact that the results went our way this time was really thrilling, especially given Rachel, her amazing recovery and just how she was as a teammate on the ice. Not only did she perform exceptionally well but she also was the leader that I know her to be. She was supportive, she was encouraging and I don’t know how but she channelled a lot of energy in that game and it just trickled down the lineup.”
There must be something in the frozen water at WinSport Arena as Team Homan have made both finals so far in the bubble on top of the two previous Humpty’s Champions Cup titles they won in that venue in 2017 and 2018.
“I think just the work that we put in early on and then believing in the work that we had put in is really all you could do to be able to keep going and take it game by game,” said Homan, who has finished runner-up twice in the Players’ Championship, both times to Jennifer Jones, in 2011 and 2014.
Team Homan haven’t worried about the things they can’t control such as the lack of games and practice. Instead, they’ve focused their energy on the things they can control.
“It’s about trying to do your best to be consistent, forgiving yourself when you’re not because you can’t expect to be at end-of-season form without having a season,” Courtney said. “We’re just trying really hard to get everything we can out there and accept the reality for what it is. We can’t change the fact that we didn’t get to play much this year. We can’t change the fact we didn’t get to practise leading into this. What we can focus on is where our mindset is and where we’re putting our energy. It’s been going really well so far.”
Winning the Princess Auto Players’ Championship would be special obviously, but Courtney is more grateful for the opportunity to even play not one but two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events to finish off the season.
“It would have been easy for the Slams to just run one but the fact we can get these extra games is huge for us leading into next season,” Courtney said. “That would be really, really cool. It would be a huge accomplishment but we’re definitely just staying in the moment and trying to keep plugging away here.”
It sounds clichéd but it’s true: They can’t get too far ahead of themselves and have to take it game by game or even step by step in Homan’s case.
“I think especially for Rachel it’s kind of one foot in front of the other right now,” Courtney said. “She’s working around the clock with a newborn baby and definitely just putting everything she has into what she has in front of her.”
DRAW 1: Reigning world champions Team Niklas Edin of Sweden got back on track to start the Princess Auto Players’ Championship with a 9-4 victory Tuesday afternoon over bronze medallists Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland.
Edin gave up single steals in the seventh and eighth ends to fall 6-5 to Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat in Sunday’s quarterfinals of the Humpty’s Champions Cup. A visibly upset Edin swore and slammed his broom onto the ice.
“I think we actually played really well in the last Slam,” Edin said. “We kind of gave that game away for nothing. It kind of felt like we had already won the game and then things added up. We got a little short on time and just managed to lose a game that we shouldn’t lose one in a hundred in that situation, so it was just very frustrating.
“I think it was my first broom slam and f-bomb as well probably in five years or something. It felt too good for us to lose that way, so that was the big frustration. We just never should have never given the game away like that.”
Edin said it definitely felt good coming back out two days later to win. His team shot 93 per cent as a unit to outduel de Cruz, whose club fired at an equally impressive 90 per cent pace. The 2017 Players’ Championship winner Edin jumped out to a 5-0 lead with a deuce in the second followed by a steal of three in the third. The teams alternated pairs of points in four and five and again in six and seven as the five-point gap was simply too much.
“I think we’re all very technically solid, very dialled in after worlds,” said Edin, who earned his record fifth world title and third in a row earlier this month. “We were communicating really well. We’re usually not too short on time — against Mouat, we got short on time but most of the games. We’ve been controlling the games out there so, hopefully, we can keep that up. I don’t think we need to do anything differently, just keep it up.”
Elsewhere to start, Team Min-Ji Kim of South Korea downed Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., 9-3; Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., scored three in the eighth to edge Team Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris, Man., 8-6 and RCF’s Team Alina Kovaleva topped Team Homan 7-4.
DRAW 2: Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones drew for a single point in the eighth end to clip Team Eve Muirhead of Scotland 6-5 Wednesday afternoon.
A score of four in the fifth end helped Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., get by Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen 7-3; Team Tirinzoni topped compatriots Team Elena Stern 5-2 and Humpty’s Champions Cup winners Team Bruce Mouat of Scotland scored five in the eighth to beat runners-up Team Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton 9-6 in a replay of Monday’s final.
DRAW 3: Reigning Canadian champions Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., scored a single in the eighth end to beat Team Tabitha Peterson of the United States 7-6 in a preview of a women’s worlds showdown.
Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg got their first win in the bubble doubling up on Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa 6-3. Hasselborg, who won the previous three Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles, went 0-4 through the Humpty’s Champions Cup.
Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller stopped Toronto’s Team John Epping 6-4 and Team Matt Dunstone of Wadena, Sask., fended off Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe 6-5.
Round-robin play in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship runs through to Friday evening. Quarterfinals and semifinals are set for Saturday with both finals on tap Sunday.
The action resumes Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. local time. Broadcast coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET / Noon local time on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet Now (Canada) and Yare (international). The first feature game is Jones versus Kovaleva.