(by Jonathan Brazeau)
The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling continues with the second leg of the series, the National, running Nov. 19-23 at the Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Brad Gushue (Photo: Anil Mungal)
With one Grand Slam event already in the books, there are a lot of interesting story lines shaping up for round two.
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Here are just five story lines to watch out for:
Will Jacobs win his first career Grand Slam on home ice?
It would be the perfect storybook tale for Olympic gold medallist Brad Jacobs to capture his first career Grand Slam in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. The team reached the final at the Players’ Championship to close out last season and Jacobs was already looking forward to this Slam in particular.
The team opened the Masters with a 0-2 record before thumping Jim Cotter 8-1 and edging Niklas Edin 7-6 in the extra end to reach the tiebreakers. Jacobs scored a win over Howard to qualify for the playoffs and topped Kevin Koe in the quarterfinals before falling to Mike McEwen 7-2 the semifinals. Altogether, the team played three games on the penultimate day of the tournament.
Team Jacobs will need to fly out of the gate to avoid having to go through the back door again via the tiebreakers to qualify, but they should have no problem accomplishing that with the home crowd roaring on their side.
Can Gushue maintain his momentum from the Masters?
Team Brad Gushue came through to kick off the Grand Slam season earlier this month and capture the Masters title in Selkirk, Man.
It was a challenging road for Gushue as his team was grouped in the “Pool of Death” featuring home province hero Jeff Stoughton, reigning world champion Thomas Ulsrud, six-time Masters champ Glenn Howard and two-time Grand Slam winner John Epping. The rink from St. John’s, N.L., dropped their opening draw match to Stoughton but rolled off three consecutive victories to top the group and qualify. Gushue then defeated Stoughton, Epping and McEwen in the playoffs to take home the title.
The team hasn’t dominated but the results are there and Gushue’s rink should have no problem finding ways to grind it out again at the National.
Can Koe complete a career Grand Slam?
Alright, so it was also a burning question heading into the National last season, but it’s still one this time around as it would be an incredible feat for Kevin Koe to capture all four majors in his career.
Koe fell in the National quarterfinals last season but has a different team this time around featuring Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert (all three of whom have won multiple National titles before).
Team Koe finished the Masters round robin with a 3-1 record but came to a halt in the quarterfinals with Jacobs scoring two in the final end to slip by for a 5-4 win. It was the first “major” test for the all-new team and they should come back hungry to win.
Could Howard go 3-for-3 in Sault Ste. Marie?
This will be the third time Sault Ste. Marie hosts a Grand Slam tournament and the previous two were won by Glenn Howard. Coincidentally, Howard is also the defending champion at the National.
Things didn’t go as planned for Howard at the Masters as his team fell to Jacobs 6-2 in a tiebreaker. Howard led 2-1 at the fourth end break but Jacobs rallied back to score a deuce in the sixth followed by steals of one in the seventh and two in the eighth. Howard will need to stay sharp in order to secure his Soo streak.
Of the new batch of teams, which ones will break out?
There will be eight sets of fresh faces in Sault Ste. Marie that weren’t present at the Masters. Of those eight teams making their Grand Slam season debut, the two skips to really keep an eye out for are Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers and Charlottetown’s Adam Casey.
Carruthers took the reigns of an all-new team after a successful stint playing front-end for Jeff Stoughton that saw him win the Brier and the world championship in 2011 as well as the National in 2013. Team Carruthers won the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard in October, finishing the tournament with a perfect 6-0 record, including wins over Howard, Gushue and Jacobs.
Casey, who skips the first P.E.I. team ever to compete in a Grand Slam tournament, has earned runner-up finishes at three World Curling Tour events this season. Team Casey is pooled with the likes of Howard, Jacobs and Epping and will need to defeat at least one of them in order to have a chance at qualifying.