The comeback season continues for Rachel Homan.
Just three weeks after giving birth to daughter Bowyn, Homan has skipped her Ottawa-based club into the women’s final of the Humpty’s Champions Cup.
Team Homan avenged earlier losses to Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., with a 5-3 victory during Sunday night’s semifinals at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. Homan will play defending champions Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland in Monday’s final. Tirinzoni, who claimed the title when the event was last held in 2019, secured her spot in the title match again with a 7-4 decision against Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man.
Homan, who has captured a record 10 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles, will make her fourth Humpty’s Champions Cup final appearance out of the five times the event has been held. Team Homan won the Humpty’s Champions Cup back-to-back in 2017 and 2018 with both events coincidentally also taking place at WinSport Arena.
“We’re really proud of our performance so far,” Team Homan lead Joanne Courtney said. “Just gritty out there, trying to stay resilient as a team and build off of every shot. It’s been lots of fun to get some more games in as a team.”
It’s the first Grand Slam final for Homan since that historic 10th title victory at the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open. The team missed the playoffs entirely in five of the following six events in the series prior to the COVID-19 pandemic bringing an early end to last year and postponing this season to April.
“It’s really important for us,” Courtney said. “There aren’t going to be many games before we head into the Olympic Trials. For us to come out strong at the Slams was a big goal for us. It’s big for momentum, it’s big for confidence and just every game we get as a team, we keep learning more and more, so we’re thrilled to be in the final.”
Team Homan made a roster move after last season parting ways with longtime lead Lisa Weagle. Courtney shifted down from second to lead to accommodate the arrival of Sarah Wilkes, formerly with Chelsea Carey’s crew. Wilkes actually subbed at second during Team Homan’s 2017 Humpty’s Champions Cup title run as Courtney was off competing in the world mixed doubles championship with Reid Carruthers.
“I’ve got great sweepers so I used them a lot in that game,” said Courtney, who shot a team-high 92 per cent in the semifinals. “I’m just trying to give the girls a chance and set up the ends well. I’m loving the new position. I played lead for most of my junior career, so it’s nice to be back. The more close games we get, the better.”
The series is giving a new rule a trial run during the Humpty’s Champions Cup called the no tick zone. A rock touching the centre line, in the free guard zone, may not be moved off the centre line by the opposing team until the sixth rock of the end. Courtney said she likes the rule as it “puts a lot of pressure on the leads to get their rocks in the right spots.”
“I like that the Grand Slam of Curling always pushes the envelope,” she added. “They’re not afraid to try new things and I think it’s great for the sport. Whether or not that ends up making into a (permanent) rule change, it’s neat that they’re willing to innovate and it’s always exciting to be a part of that.”
Einarson topped Homan twice prior in the very same rink during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts gold medal game in February and again during the opening draw of pool play Thursday. The latter could have gone either way and just came down to Einarson pulling off a runback double takeout with the last shot of the game to score four points in the 6-3 victory.
“They’re a great team and they’re playing really well,” Courtney said. “We just had to keep ourselves on the right side of the scoreboard to keep it close. We were lucky to manage to get the hammer in the last end. We had some good rock placement and good execution. They’re a team you’re always going to have to show up and play well against and it was another close one tonight.”
Einarson started with the hammer and converted for a deuce in the second to open the scoring. Homan had a huge opportunity to make a double in the third and potentially score five points but just grazed the first counter and “only” scored three for the 3-2 lead.
Team Homan’s best offence was then a good defence keeping pace with Team Einarson and leading to three consecutive blanks. In particular, the sixth end saw Einarson pull off one of her patented double takeouts only for Homan to match with a ridiculous slash double of her own that emptied the house.
Einarson was limited to a single in seven that tied it but handed the hammer over to Homan for the final frame. Homan made an open hit on her first skip stone to sit three rocks tight together within the four-foot circle. Einarson made a hard short runback on one of her own, but only eliminated one counter. Her raised rock double jammed on the others and spilled up as Homan tacked on the winning two points and didn’t need to throw her last.
Einarson and Fleury held byes to the semifinals after finishing with identical and unblemished 4-0 records in pool play.
Homan and Tirinzoni both went 3-1 through their pools to require a trip through the quarterfinals earlier Sunday. Homan eliminated Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa 5-4 and Tirinzoni fended off RCF’s Team Alina Kovaleva 8-7 in an extra end to advance.
Reigning men’s champion Team Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton made it through to the final once again and will battle Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat in a rematch from the worlds. Mouat ousted Bottcher in the qualification round en route to earning a silver medal.
Bottcher scored four in the seventh to beat Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe 6-2 in a repeat of the Brier final.
Meanwhile, Mouat pulled off the shot of the tournament with the last rock of his game to score two for the 5-4 win over Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L. Mouat fired an angle runback takeout and raised stone stuck around at the back of the 12-foot circle to count for the decisive deuce.
Team Bottcher (3-1 in their group) held the No. 2 seed and a bye to the semis thanks to a superior draw to the button shootout total.
Mouat (also 3-1 in preliminary play) fell 7-4 to Gushue during the round-robin finale Saturday night. Gushue grabbed the top spot at 4-0 as Mouat went from potentially securing the No. 1 seed and a bye to dropping to No. 4 overall and facing world champions Team Niklas Edin of Sweden during the quarterfinals in a rematch of the gold medal game from exactly one week ago. The tables were turned and Mouat stole singles in the seventh and eighth ends to edge Edin 6-5.
The men’s final kicks off Championship Monday at 2 p.m. ET / Noon local time followed by the women’s final at 6 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. local time. Watch both games on Sportsnet or stream online at Sportsnet Now (Canada) and Yare (international).
The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the first of back-to-back Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events in the bubble. There’s no rest for the world’s best as the Princess Auto Players’ Championship begins Tuesday. Both events are closed to the general public.