CHATHAM-KENT, Ont. — The stage is set for the finals at the Princess Auto Elite 10.
Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., collides with Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers for the men’s championship while Anna Hasselborg of Sweden takes on Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland for the inaugural women’s title.
Previously a men’s invitational, this is the first year a women’s division has been included at the Princess Auto Elite 10 bringing parity across the seven-event Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series.
Gushue edged Carruthers in a shootout for the title in 2016, however, it’s not quite a straight rematch in the season-opening event. Carruthers now has a not-so-secret weapon bringing in Mike McEwen to throw fourth stones. The former skip McEwen won the first Elite 10 title in 2015 and played lights out to decisively defeat Gushue for the crown last season.
“We whooped him last year,” McEwen said with a laugh. “That was kind of our team farewell. The stars all aligned for the old Team McEwen. I’m sure Brad’s pretty motivated and I’m looking forward to a good game.”
Indeed, Gushue is ready for revenge although he did give praise to McEwen for his performance on this stage.
“Mike loves this format,” said Gushue, who has won 10 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles. “He’s one of those skips who enjoys the big shots: the angle raises, the doubles, the in-offs and things like that. He’s very good at it and this format is very suitable for that type of skip. I’m kind of the opposite where I’d rather draw to the side of the button if need be but it’s suited us, obviously, being here three times.
“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be interesting to watch those guys play for the first time. I’m going to poke a little fun at Mike and his sweeping but it should be a good battle. No matter what the result tomorrow, I’m proud of my team playing as good as we have in the first week but we’d certainly like to finish it off.”
Match play rules are in effect at the season-opening Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event where teams compete to win the most ends per game similar to skins only without carryovers. Points are scored by either counting two or more rocks (with the hammer) or stealing at least one rock (without the hammer). If the game is tied after eight ends, a draw-to-the-button shootout will determine the winner.
McEwen admitted he doesn’t know exactly why this format has brought out the best in him but whatever is the case it’s clear that Mikey likes it.
“There’s something about the format making the big shots that you get to make and maybe that just suits me a little bit as a player. I seem to thrive under that,” McEwen said. “Maybe I need the clock winding down to get me going. I’m not sure what it is but I love the format.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in I think half the finals. We didn’t even play one year because we had to go do something else to make sure we were in the [Olympic] Trials. It’s just been remarkable and this format is a lot of fun for the players and I hope that translates into the quality that the fans get to take in.”
Team Gushue, who went 3-0-0-1 in round-robin play and nabbed a bye to the semis, reached the final in their first event of the season and without any practice ice back home either. Gushue’s lone loss came against Glenn Howard in his second round-robin game.
“I think we’re actually surprising ourselves with how well we’re playing seeing as how we only got on the ice less than a week ago,” Gushue said. “Fortunate to get a couple breaks but we’re also making a lot of shots. Hopefully, we can continue to get both tomorrow.”
Gushue grabbed a spot in the final with a 2 UP win over Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Although Gushue led 3 UP after six ends and Jacobs needed to win out the remaining ends just for a shot at a shootout, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist didn’t give up. Jacobs was on the ropes but didn’t go down easy dropping a ridiculous raise double takeout with his last in the sixth end to score a point and pulled off another tricky double takeout in seven that held up for a steal as Gushue came up light and tight on his last.
“We played really good early and missed a couple opportunities. I had a draw there in the first to win a skin and had another opportunity later on in the game,” Gushue said. “Then in four, five and six, we played a couple great ends and Brad made an incredible shot in the sixth end to get a skin and keep the game alive. Then I made a bit of a mistake on my last one in seven, kind of pulled the string a little bit and kept it alive for another end.”
Gushue fended off the comeback in the eighth end though and credits third Mark Nichols for setting the table.
“Mark made an incredible double peel, killed their rock on the button and really made it easy after that,” Gushue said. “He threw that really good, made a hell of a shot. Made it easy on me, which is nice after I messed up in seven.”
Team Carruthers has been on fire, going 3-1-0-0 in round-robin play to receive a bye to the semis, although it hasn’t been easy. Carruthers, who is a two-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event winner, clinched a spot in the final by eliminating Toronto’s John Epping in a shootout.
McEwen made the draw and although the team was disappointed with where they landed, it held up as Epping wasn’t able to drag his closer to the button.
“It’s hard on me but it’s hard on these guys judging it too,” said McEwen, who won seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles as a skip. “Nevermind me getting my heartrate down to throw, it’s the same thing. It’s amazing what adrenaline will do, so it’s very difficult as a sweeper to manage those stones properly, especially late in the game too. The paths are all a little bit different.
“It’s a bit of a science out there and you just hope things go your way but man, that is a really tough team shot to win a game. We’re fortunate we made it just good enough that John didn’t beat us. That could have gone either way.”
Meanwhile, Tirinzoni topped Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones 1 UP with a pistol from fourth Alina Paetz on the final shot of the game.
“I was actually really nervous,” Paetz said, “but I played pretty well in the game and that made me comfortable for the last shot.”
Tirinzoni captured the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 1 women’s championship in 2015 but underwent a massive lineup change for the new Olympic cycle bringing in former rival Paetz, who is pumped to compete in her first-ever Grand Slam final.
“I think that’s really special for us because we came into the week and we weren’t sure what tactics we were going to play,” Paetz said. “We’re a new team so we weren’t pretty sure about the whole thing here but we got more comfortable in each game and now it feels great.”
Team Tirinzoni went 2-0-1-1 (seven points) in round-robin play and also defeated Edmonton’s Laura Walker in the quarterfinals.
Hasselborg held on for a 1 UP win over Ottawa’s Rachel Homan in the semis and seeks her first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title in her third final. The reigning Olympic gold medallist went a perfect 4-0-0-0 in round-robin play earning the maximum 12 points to secure a bye straight to the semifinals.
Team Hasselborg has three-time world champion Wayne Middaugh behind the bench coaching them this week.
“I’m very proud of the way we’re playing right now,” Hasselborg said. “We’re so new to the skins format. We had only played one game before coming here. I think we talked it through a lot before coming here. We brought Wayne in too and he has come with a lot of good points. We’re just loving it and having a lot of fun.”
Hasselborg credits Middaugh’s expertise with the skins format for their success.
“He brought some very easy pointers we were practising the other day before coming here,” she said. “He’s really used to thinking of skins. Whatever he says I listen to and I think we’re just going to keep sticking to our game plan and keep having fun.”
The women’s final goes down Sunday at Noon ET (Sportsnet) followed by the men’s final at 4 p.m. ET (Sportsnet ONE). Online streaming for both finals is available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and gsoc.yaretv.com (international).
NOTES: Winners of the Princess Auto Elite 10 earn $24,000 of the $200,000 prize purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 23-28 in Saskatoon. … Points are also on the line for the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to the season champions in the series with a $75,000 bonus for the winners.