The Grand Slam of Curling’s seasonal theme continues as we head into the holidays.
With skips Kerri Einarson and Brad Jacobs leading their teams to victory at The National, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, “Busting Through” could be pegged as the tour’s unofficial slogan.
For Team Jacobs, the busting through refers to ending a wee Grand Slam drought and perhaps launching a spirited bid for dominance in the second half of the season, shaking off the doldrums that have stuck to them like the velcro on their gloves. For Einarson, it refers to her team’s first ever Grand Slam win, which places them in the same company as Team Niklas Edin and Team Allison Flaxey, victors at earlier slam events in 2016-17.
Jacobs and his mates – Ryan Fry, E.J. and Ryan Harnden – got the hometown win they said they desperately wanted, taking down perhaps the hottest team on the circuit in the outfit skipped by Reid Carruthers, 4-2. It was Jacobs’ second Grand Slam win, coming a year and a half after his first, the 2015 Players’ Championship. There were some close calls and flat out disappointments in between as well as watching another Brad – Gushue – claim a clutch of titles in the interim.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Jacobs told CBC after the win. “I don’t know how we did it but we did it and hopefully this gives us a nice little boost and helps with the confidence and we can keep rolling and have a good Christmas break.”
Disappointed after last week’s early departure from the Canada Cup – a competition they were hoping to peak for – Jacobs and his teammates can now feel the rejuvenation of winning a slam in their hometown as well as banking 81.456 points in the race for an Olympic Trials berth.
For Einarson – a Tier Two winner last season – there were “Goosebumps everywhere” after her team’s 5-3 win over Silvana Tirinzoni in the women’s final. When asked by Sportsnet commentator Mike Harris how the words “Grand Slam Champion” sounded, she replied: “That sounds amazing. I hope there’s more to come.”
There very likely will be more for the 29-year-old skip. However, those chickens can sometimes be counted a little more slowly than one might like; Einarson and her teammates need only ask the Jacobs’ crew, who, as decorated as they are, left The Soo with only their second ever Grand Slam win. Nevertheless, her team, rounded out by third Selena Kaatz, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish, can feel the slingshot of momentum just like Team Jacobs, as they have their own Olympic Trials berth to think about and the 84.142 points they picked up will push them from out of the picture to smack dab in the middle of it. Indeed, this win at The National, along with last week’s semi-final finish at The Canada Cup, sends a message that Einarson’s rink is ascending and that the defending Manitoba Champions should be considered no worse than even money to repeat their provincial title, even with Team Jennifer Jones back in the picture this season.
It wasn’t exactly a sizzling day of shotmaking at The National, although there were some instances of it. However, both the men’s and women’s championships were marked by some missed opportunities; the men’s final featured an eighth end that saw a draw slip through the house followed by two that were short of the rings altogether as they over-curled a ton. The women’s final featured three hogged rocks in one end.
There were some wild rides on championship Sunday. Carruthers’ left arm shuddered a bit on one delivery during the men’s final, as his stabilizer picked up some debris underneath, and that ‘s not something you see every day. Tirinzoni’s shot in the eighth end was notable for the lengthy gash left in the ice and after she released the stone, she looked back over her shoulder as if to see if the moose she’d run over was okay. The Sportsnet replay of the shot made the stone look a little like the bow of a boat pushing water to either side, as little ice chips flew up beside it.
The week did have those kinds of moments. You can ask Steve Laycock. His team gets distinguished as the first to lose a Slam game to the Tanner Horgan rink, during the round-robin, when his final shot – a rather routine take out on an open stone – bit into something on the Essar Centre ice surface.
That young Horgan team is one to watch in the future and the sponsor’s invitation they received to play against some of the best squads in the world will likely serve them well as they mature. The two thousand bucks they got when Laycock’s stone blew a tire doesn’t hurt either.
The Horgans will be back, down the road, but for the present it was another Northern Ontario men’s team that took the spotlight on Sunday – reclaimed it, really – along with an emerging women’s force from Manitoba.