Cranbrook has successfully hosted another big league curling event, this one with a strong international component, four years after the Canada Cup came to town.
Indeed, the Men’s Tier 1 final of the Tour Challenge, part of the Grand Slam of Curling, featured the now number one team in the world — Niklas Edin’s squad from Karlstadt, Sweden, who took on an up and coming from Scotland skipped by Kyle Smith. Edin prevailed 7-3 in seven ends to gain his second Grand Slam title. Earlier Sunday, Val Sweeting of Edmonton took the Women’s title over Michelle Englot, 8-4.
Sixty teams in two tiers competed in Cranbrook’s Western Financial Place and Memorial Arena over the past week, with Sunday’s finals, both Tier 1 and Tier 2 Men’s and Women’s, being played at WFP.
“We started off pretty badly — we didn’t figure out the ice or the rocks, we didn’t figure out how to play ourselves either,” Edin said after the game. “So the first two games we lost kind of badly, then we regrouped. We talked about how to figure it out on the ice, and how to work as a team out there. And I think that was the difference. We started to play way better, got some good breaks and made some key shots. And I think the turning point was beating Jacobs in the tiebreaker game. When we did that I knew we had a good chance of winning this event.”
All the teams had adjustments to make with ice and rocks.
After losing her first match to Sherry Middaugh, Sweeting and her team of Lori Olson-Johns, Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown went on to become a dominant presence in the tournament, with victories over Anna Hasselborg, Jennifer Jones, Alina Paetz, Tracy Fleury and Allison Flaxey. She won the final 8-4 over Michelle Englot in seven ends.
“There were a lot of hard fought games out there — you got to take it one shot at a time,” Sweeting said afterwards. “But we definitely had a lot of good things go our way, and the girls made some excellent shots.
“The ice was pretty tricky out there and the rocks were a little bit different, but the team did a really good job of picking up on that. I think that’s what helped get us through here.”
For his part, Edin was savouring the European presence in the playoffs this weekend. Smith had defeated Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud in the semis, while another Swedish team, led by Anna Hasselborg, lost into the semis to Michelle Englot.
“Now we see that a lot of the European teams can do well here. Four of the semifinal teams were from Europe.”
But Edin can’t rest on his laurels. His team is returning home for the European championships, where as number one, teams will looking for the upset.
“We’ll have some tough competition [in Europe] and we’ll have to play just as well as we did here, because they’re coming to come even harder for us in that event,” Edin said. “That’s more important to the European teams than the slam.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Smith’s team of Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell and Cammy Smith have proved to be an up-and-coming force to be reckoned, coming out of Tier 2 last year to make Tier 1 finals this year. Although disappointed with the loss Sunday, Smith was philosophical.
“To make the playoffs was obviously our goal,” Smith told the Townsman afterwards. “Edin’s been red hot this season, and he didn’t really give us much in that game.
“I’ve had a really good experience here, so it’s something to build on for the future.”
The Tier 2 finals played out at the same time as Tier 1 at Western Financial Place, and the Women’s side featured two Ontario teams : Thunder Bay’s Karla McCarville and Jacqueline Harrison from Mississauga. It was a tight-knit affair, going into an extra end, with Harrison drawing on her final stone to win the title.
“A chance to win a tournament and get to a big event, there’s a little bit of nerves there. But the girls played well, and they gave me a shot to win in the extra end, and we made it.
Harrison’s rink of Janet Murphy, Stephanie Matheson and Melissa Foster now advance into Tier 1, and will play in the 2017 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford. “The opportunity to get into Tier 1 play is special,” Harrison said.
Greg Balsdon’s rink from Kingston, Ontario, prevailed 5-4 in extra ends over Glenn Howard, from Penetanguishene, Ontario. They will also be elevated into Tier 1 for further Grand Slam play.
As for the hosts
“We’re pretty ecstatic,” said Todd Pellerin of the Cranbrook Grand Slam committee, who helped bring the event to Cranbrook and was a key organizer. “Numbers were pretty good, we did pretty well with the venues, we did well with our 50/50, and with the Social House we did okay.”
Also pleased with the way the event turned out was the national broadcaster.
“Sportsnet came up to us several times, said they were pretty excited,” Pellerin said. “Everything went well here. Our volunteers were exceptional, and the curlers had lots of good comments about the drivers, about the Social House, about the party-after-party … there was a lot of fun had by the curlers.”
Pellerin added that according to Sportsnet, Cranbrook is in the running for another future event — “We’re hoping to get one in another two or three years. It’s a lot of work, a lot of volunteer hours.”
Pellerin took a moment to praise the efforts of the volunteers, and the support of the City of Cranbrook.
“It took almost 300 volunteers to make this happen, and we couldn’t have done it without the excellent support of the City of Cranbrook. The City really came through and helped us with this, both with the financial guarantee and with the manpower issue.
And the publicity and economic impact the event generated for Cranbrook itself is considerable.
“It’s been awesome,” Sweeting said of the locale. “The restaurants are fantastic, our hotel was really nice — Everyone’s been really nice here and we really enjoyed our stay.”
“It was lovely,” Harrison added. “There are a lot of really friendly people here, we met some lovely people, and it’s just a really great city and a really great time.”