Well, one more curling team gets to exhale and relax just a little bit. The rest now breathe in and brace themselves for an Olympic dreams scrap, one that should make for a very interesting next few months.
Reid Carruthers, welcome to the Olympic Trials. Everyone else not on teams skipped by him, Kevin Koe, Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones, get scrambling.
Carruthers made it a clean sweep for Manitoba rinks, taking a see-saw, 8-6 victory over Team Gushue – skipped by Mark Nichols – and winning the men’s title at the 2016 Canada Cup. Cracking a three-ender in the ninth to break open a tight one, Team Carruthers also secured an Olympic Trials berth with the victory.
The results of The Canada Cup have provided us with what should be the ingredients for a hell of a race over the course of the winter and spring, with the women’s side now getting what the men’s side already had – an extra berth based on the 2016-17 end-of-season standings.
Not that the final result brought that about. Even before Team Jennifer Jones and Team Rachel Homan stepped on the ice for their final in Brandon, Manitoba, it had already been confirmed that another berth in the qualifier for the 2018 games would be up for grabs, even though the juiciest morsel in winning the tournament was a guaranteed spot in that competition. Both Jones and Homan had already locked down spots in Kanata, Ontario, where Canada’s men’s and women’s Olympic curling teams will be decided one year from now.
A Homan/Jones final meant the trials berth on offer would scatter to the wind, set to land at the end of the year, based on tour points. That’s a shame for the other rinks in Brandon who’d hoped to join them on the invitee’s list, but a boon for those who were watching from elsewhere and who now have a bonus spot to try and reel in.
A steal of four, in the third end, propelled Jones and her team to the crown (Jones’ third) in a 9-5 win and the $14,000.00 grand prize (as well as two grand for each round-robin win) that came along with it. Cash is nice, of course, and so are titles, but both of those teams already had the luxury of playing a relaxed schedule in 2016-17. The rest of the women’s field was hoping to win it all and celebrate an early Christmas – not just because of the money – safe from the uncertainty of an intense points pursuit.
“This is one of the toughest events to win so we’re pretty pleased,” Jones told TSN afterward. “We’re workin’ hard to get back into the form we were in 2014.”
For Val Sweeting, Chelsea Carey, Kerri Einarson, Tracy Fleury and Kelsey Rocque, it means heading back into the cauldron, trying to earn their way in the hard way, either by way of a national Scotties championship (as long as they then go on to a podium finish at worlds) or a high enough finish in the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings. For skips like Allison Flaxey, Michelle Englot and Casey Scheidegger – who didn’t get a crack at the Canada Cup – it’s a bit of a “Yahtzee!” situation as at least three trials invitations will be offered at the end of this season, based on points.
You can make that four if either Homan or Jones wins The Scotties.
Flaxey’s in the catbird seat – maybe she and her teammates were, anyway – as they held a healthy lead over other would be Olympians heading into the weekend, a hundred points ahead of Englot. Sweeting and Rocque pick up more points based on their Canada Cup appearances, making their tussle with Englot a tight one right now. Fleury’s not far behind and those that had faint hope of picking off a points-based berth, have new life because of the Homan/Jones Canada Cup final.
We shouldn’t forget that another Olympic qualifier’s position will be earned by a team that finishes with the most points over two seasons. Carey and Sweeting are in the strongest positions in that regard on the women’s side, Team Gushue (whose skip, Brad Gushue should be back from injury by early in the new year) and Mike McEwen on the men’s.
UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, Sportsnet reported that Gushue was planning on returning at this week’s Grand Slam of curling event, in Sault Ste. Marie.
When Team Kevin Koe won the 2015 Canada Cup and then went on to win The Brier and The Worlds last season, it effectively meant they’d earned two berths to the Olympic Trials and that’s why it had already been decided that an extra CTRS standings ticket would be available for the men this season. When Koe’s team finished out of the playoffs in Brandon, it meant that someone was going to nail down a trials berth along with the Canada Cup championship and that someone turned out to be Carruthers and his teammates; Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson.
As far as single-season standings go, McEwen is in a strong position, as are John Epping, Steve Laycock, Gushue and Brad Jacobs, whose ouster from the Canada Cup must have been a stinger, as he and his teammates were targeting the tournament as a place on the schedule where they wanted to be in peak form.
“This is an eye opener for us,” Jacobs said after his team’s tiebreaker loss on the weekend. “We’ve gotta get a lot better if we expect to be in the Olympic Trials. It’s back to the drawing board, the four of us, with our coach and our sports psych. I’m confident that we can get better.”
Lots of curling to come, of course, with a number of teams having more than one viable way into the field at season’s end. Five direct entries to the Olympic Trials remain on both the men’s and women’s sides, with six or seven teams figuring they ought to be the ones to go. However, somebody’s going to be left on the outside, looking to fight their way in by plucking a spot through the pre-trials, next November in Summerside, PEI.
The Canada Cup’s results have certainly added intrigue to the proceedings and given new hope to a number of teams.
It’s a pressure cooker for ambitious rinks, for sure.
But, it’s also a delicious circumstance for curling fans as this thing is really just starting to lightly boil, with the next opportunity to get a leg up coming this week at the Grand Slam of Curling’s “The National,” in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.