Grand Slam of Curling: King Niklas wins again, Sweeting scrambles back
It's Niklas Edin's world. All other stone throwers merely live in it. Or, perhaps more accurately, all sweepers.
The Swedish skip credited a tightening on broom regulations for being at least part of the reason why he and his teammates are on top of the heap in men's curling this season, when he spoke after a 7-3, seven-end triumph at the Tour Challenge in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
It was a fairly comfortable victory for Edin and his team as they cruised over a young squad skipped by Kyle Smith, breaking things open with three in the fifth end, after keeping the Scottish team under pressure up to - and after - that point.
It's Edin's second straight Grand Slam Championship, having taken The Masters two weeks ago, and his third win in Canada this season (among a total of five tournament victories in eight events).
When asked by Sportsnet's Joan McCusker about the key to his team's mastery this autumn, Edin revisited last year's season of tumult, when everyone was talking about broom heads and the materials they were made of.
"I think motivation," he replied. "A lot went wrong last season with the brushes and we didn't have the right materials. We didn't handle the materials well. Getting that changed, we knew we were good players. We can make all the shots. Now we're all on equal terms I think that was just a really big motivation factor."
"Now we can show what we can do."
It was the first time in the history of The Slams that two finalists came from Europe, with Smith upending Thomas Ulsrud in one semi, while Edin tipped Team Gushue in the other. Team Gushue was still without skip Brad Gushue, who's missed the entire season so far and may very well be out until the new year, depending on how his hip injury comes along in the next few days.
Canadian teams enjoy home ice advantage at the slams, even if they are travelling cross-country for an event. That's a whole lot better than crossing the sea before you bounce across the country in order to compete. Many of those European teams extend their stays, now, and Edin's crew is the best example of that; spending long, long periods of time in Canada in order to ensure they are up to the task of going deep into the best competitions.
Smith's team should be very pleased with their showing at this event, having reeled off five straight wins to get to the final, including beating Reid Carruthers' rink - ranked fifth in the world (year to date standings) twice. As well, the 24-year-old skip made a peach of a shot in the fourth end of the final, to shave Edin's lead to 3-2. Had the young sharpshooter missed a very tight hit and stick against four Edin stones, the game would have been over, for all intents and purposes, at that moment.
Smith and his mates have sent what seems a clear message as their upward trajectory continues after winning the Oakville OCT Classic back in September: Have an eye, Mr. Murdoch. You too, Mr. Brewster. And the rest of the world for that matter. The young guns are on the move.
Edin has sent a message of his own: Catch me if you can.
If you're not a fan of seeing just usual suspects in big event finals, the Grand Slam of Curling's 2016-17 season has gotten off to the right start for you in some ways. Smith's appearance in Sunday's Tour Challenge final was a refreshing one. Two weeks ago at The Masters, Allison Flaxey skipped her Ontario team to an upset win against Team Rachel Homan.
The Women's final at the Tour Challenge also provided something a little different, with veteran skip Michelle Englot's new, first-year team getting to the final against Val Sweeting.
WOMEN'S FINAL: SWEETING TOPS ENGLOT
Sweeting may have had all kinds of trouble making hits in the first end but she made no mistake in the seventh, skipping her Edmonton-based team to a second Grand Slam title, with an 8-4 decision over Englot's crew from Winnipeg.
With hammer in the first, Sweeting's first hit attempt overcurled, nudging an Englot stone to the side of the twelve-foot. Her second takeout attempt was even more off the mark, flashing completely and staking the opposition to a 2-nothing lead.
There may have been some struggles after that - all teams seemed to have their adventures at this event as new stones were pressed into action - yet Sweeting's team did enough to steal points in ends three, four and five to forge a 5-2 lead after five.
In the end, Sweeting nailed a hit for three in the seventh to score three more and salt away the win, proving that ice and stone reading problems had been successfully wrestled to submission.
"The girls held me in there and the played really well and just kinda plugged away, there," Sweeting told Sportsnet after the game.
For Sweeting - and most of the elite Canadian teams at this event - a positive kick in the confidence was nearly as prized as the cash was going into it. That's because the season's biggest event so far, the Canada Cup, comes up in two weeks in Brandon, Manitoba. Sweeting and the other skips involved in that who are not named Jones, Homan or Koe (who've already secured Olympic qualifying spots) know that a win there means they get a ticket to Ottawa, in 2017, with a shot at wearing the maple leaf at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
"It'll be huge momentum going into that," said Sweeting.
The Tour Challenge undercards (Tier Two Championships) provided big wins for Greg Balsdon and Jacqueline Harrison, both of Ontario. Harrison knocked off last year's Scotties runner-up, Krista McCarville by a score of 5-4, earning a spot in The Canadian Open, in early January. Balsdon gets that invitation as well, after beating Glenn Howard by the same score. It was big in another way for Balsdon, as he and Howard were in a close second to John Epping for season's point totals. It's of particular interest this year because for the first time ever, the province is holding two spots at its championship for the top two point-getters. With that win, Balsdon's in the catbird seat for the second invitation while Howard seems poised to have to scramble through playdowns.