Grand Slam of Curling: Gushue thrives, Scheidegger arrives at the Canadian Open

Team Gushue salutes the crowd at the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, SK on January 7, 2017. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

The results of the 2017 Grand Slam of Curling’s Canadian Open gave us both an answer and a question.

The answer: Yes, Brad Gushue is just fine after missing half a season with an injury. The question: Is Casey Scheidegger ready to win an Alberta championship?

GUSHUE PERFECT IN WIN OVER EDIN

Brad Gushue’s 8-3 (seven ends) win over Niklas Edin came with the winning skip firing a perfect 100%, his second such personal score in three games (the other was a paltry (ahem) 92%.

The 36-year-old skip displayed a perfect touch on a tricky draw in the 6th end, scoring three and salting things away as he and his teammates forged a five rock lead.

“Just showing no signs of any kind of weakness,” said analyst Kevin Martin, describing Gushue’s game.

While Gushue was letter perfect in the game, counterpart Niklas Edin wasn’t quite that, although he did make a couple of beautiful last-stone shots in both the third and fifth ends to score singles and keep the proceedings from getting out of hand earlier. However, a miss on a double in the second end opened the door for a Gushue four, and Edin and his mates were chasing the rest of the way.

“I felt really good this week,” Gushue told CBC just after the win. “I didn’t think we’d be back to this point this quick but I knew we’d get back here. I thought it would take a little more time,” he said.

Gushue has never seemed more comfortable with a team than he does right now. He’s never seemed happier on the ice and it comes across in spades during games. Maybe that’s because he’s returned to elite curling with such ease after a frustrating hip and groin injury kept him off the ice for longer than he thought it would. Or maybe it’s because after years of rotating a series of teammates in and out of the line-up, he knows he’s truly hit upon his best chance ever at finally winning a Brier, getting a shot at a World Championship and getting back to an Olympic Games.

“I like our relationship right now,” he said of vice Mark Nichols, during a mid-game interview on CBC. With Nichols – who’d superbly filled in for Gushue as skip while his teammate re-habbed through the beginning of December – and front enders Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker, Gushue seems to have confidence overflowing, with calm communication and reciprocated respect in obvious evidence between he and his teammates.

It’s all boding well for a team that heads for provincials with a backyard national championship on the horizon. 2017 might be their time to climb all the way to the top of the world, and Gushue’s forced vacation might end up being a key component to that possibly happening.

For Gushue, that St. John’s Brier (barring what could only be termed a ridiculously monumental upset at provincials) might be his best shot yet at nabbing the tankard. His half-season rest might prove beneficial at that time.

“I’m gonna be a lot more fresh this spring than I have been the last couple of years,” he told CBC.

“And I’m hungry.”

And already shooting smoothly and surgically, just a couple of events into his season.

Casey Scheidegger throws a stone during the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, SK on January 5, 2017. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

SCHEIDEGGER’S BREAKTHROUGH SEASON NETS A FIRST SLAM TITLE

Casey Scheidegger’s 5-4 win over Silvana Tirinzoni in the women’s final was helped along by a sub-par performance by Tirinzoni, capped by a light attempt on a draw attempt in the eighth, giving Scheidegger the decisive steal point.

But that tells just part of the story. Scheidegger, herself, shook off whatever nerves may have been present for her and her team – they were playing in their first ever grand slam final – and drew perfectly buried behind a long guard, sitting just biting the four foot, shrinking the scoring zone for Tirinzoni’s final shot.

“I’m in a little bit of shock but we’re thrilled,” she told Sportsnet afterward. “We’ve worked so hard this season. It’s finally like a breakthrough for us.”

Scheidegger’s win could be termed a bit of a surprise, sure. But not a shocker, if you look at the season they’d been having leading up to the competition. They’d previously won three events on tour, defeating both Jennifer Jones and Eve Muirhead in the finals of early season spiels.

In beating Kerri Einarson, Jones and Val Sweeting on the way to the Canadian Open final, Scheidegger and teammates Cary-Anne McTaggart, Jessie Scheidegger and Stephanie Enright showed that they should absolutely be considered legitimate threats at the upcoming Alberta Scotties, in St. Albert. Scheidegger, the 28-year-old skip (29 at the end of January) who won a provincial junior championship in 2009, has made six straight appearances at the Alberta Scotties, making it to the playoffs just once.

However, considering the year they’ve had so far, it seems it’d be unwise to bet against them making a TV appearance at the provincial championship in 2017 (Joan McCusker and I will have the call of both the semi-final and the final, on Sportsnet, on January 29th).

Team Scheidegger’s rise – the skip credits working with national team coach Paul Webster as a key reason for it –  has them in great shape as the provincials come up around the bend. “We always felt like we can compete with these teams and so we’re just kind of now proving it,” said Scheidegger told Sportsnet.

Sweeting and the other contenders in St. Albert now have that to think about.

 

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About Don

Don Landry is a multi-talented media pro: an accomplished morning show host, a sought-after voiceover artist and master of ceremonies, and a thoughtful commentator and interview specialist.