Eight Ends: All you need to know for KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge, starting Tues. in Pictou County NS (GSOC)

(by Jonathan Brazeau)

PICTOU COUNTY, N.S. — The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling is right back at it with the largest event in the series.

You saw all the thrilling action last month at the Masters, now double that for the second event of the season. The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge begins Tuesday night (7 p.m. AT) at the Pictou County Wellness Centre with 62 teams (!) competing in two tiers.

Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.

1st End: The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge tiers are broken down into the following. The Tier 1 men’s and women’s divisions both include 15 of the top teams from around the world — basically, your standard GSOC event. The Tier 2 divisions highlight 10 of the next-ranked teams plus six teams from within the event’s region looking to make an impact.

What’s at stake? Tier 1 winners cash in a cool $30,000, 12 Pinty’s Cup points and berths to the season-ending 2020 Humpty’s Champions Cup. Tier 2 winners earn $10,000 and promotions to face the world’s best at the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open with airfare and accommodation provided.

2nd End: Who’s the hottest men’s team heading into the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge? It has to be Matt Dunstone’s Regina-based squad thanks to the skip’s scorching performance capturing his first career GSOC men’s title just a little over a week ago.

They say once you win your first one, the others come in bunches (e.g. Niklas Edin and Brendan Bottcher as recent GSOC examples) and Team Dunstone could continue to ride the wave.

3rd End: Tracy Fleury’s team is in a similar situation as Team Dunstone with their skip also coming off of a stellar performance at the Masters winning her first GSOC title.

The East St. Paul, Man., squad has been running at high-octane levels since the season started racing out to a fantastic (and somewhat frantic) start having competed in seven tournaments already. They’ve handled the workload ranking No. 1 on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings.

Both Dunstone and Fleury will be out to prove they’re no one-hit wonders.

3rd End: Toronto’s Team John Epping reached the top of the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit this past week. Team Epping, with new third Ryan Fry, won back-to-back events at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and Shorty Jenkins Classic to start the season and recently reached the semifinals at the Masters. Can Epping remain No. 1 after the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge?

Speaking of back-to-back title winners ranked No. 1, Kerri Einarson’s club from Gimli, Man., reached the top OOM spot in the women’s division after making the quarterfinals at the Masters. Like Team Epping, can they stay on top of the division? Stay tuned.

4th End: Kevin Koe will have a super spare in his lineup with 11-time Grand Slam winner John Morris subbing at third while B.J. Neufeld is on paternity leave. The pair played together back in the day although Morris was calling the shots with Koe in the vice skip role.

It’ll be interesting to see how they manage with the roles reversed. The reigning Pinty’s Cup champion Koe had Kirk Muyres at third during the Masters and will look to regroup after missing the playoffs in a GSOC event for the first time in almost two years.

5th End: Keep one eye on last year’s men’s runner-up as well: Team Brendan Bottcher from Edmonton. Bottcher followed up his first GSOC final at the Tour Challenge last year by winning three consecutive titles in the series through the Meridian Canadian Open, Players’ Championship and Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Bottcher’s drive to score a fourth ended in the Masters quarterfinals against a resurgent Team Brad Gushue. (The St. John’s, N.L., crew is who you should keep your other eye on.)

6th End: Brad Jacobs and Rachel Homan enter as the reigning KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge champions following their wins a year ago in Thunder Bay. Jacobs scored two for the win in the final frame to edge out Bottcher with the Soo crew celebrating among their Northern Ontario fans. Team Homan earned a decisive victory over Team Fleury in the women’s final and kicked off a streak of three title wins in the series for the Ottawa-based club.

Jacobs was looking to threaten at the Masters on Northern Ontario ice again until running into the red-hot Dunstone in the quarterfinals. Homan missed the playoffs with a 1-3 round-robin record although two losses came in extra ends without the hammer, so it’s not like the team had a bad week.

7th End: Has the women’s division ever been this deep? On top of Fleury, Einarson and Homan, also add to the mix reigning world champion Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland, Olympic gold medallist Anna Hasselborg of Sweden, plus Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones (who has won both world and Olympic titles).

Now throw in Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura coming off of their runner-up result at the Masters and you can see why the Grand Slams are the toughest events to win where even title contenders can miss the playoffs.

8th End: Kirk Muyres, back with his Saskatoon-based squad, is gearing up to defend the Tier 2 men’s title and has gotten out to a good start on tour ranked No. 12 on the year-to-date standings. One spot ahead is Winnipeg’s Team Braden Calvert, who reached the semifinals at the Shorty Jenkins Classic and won the Atkins Curling Supplies Classic as a three-man squad. The “young bucks” from the United States, Team Korey Dropkin, are another to look out for.

Laura Walker formed a new Edmonton-based team this season and they’ve been chipping away at the deficit in the standings. Daniela Jentsch’s team from Germany has been knocking on the door for a few years now and this could be their chance to kick it off of the hinges.

Extra End: Full-event and weekend passes plus single-draw tickets are available for the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge, visit thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets for information to purchase yours today.

Can’t make it to Nova Scotia? Sportsnet will be your home for exclusive broadcast coverage starting Thursday at 11 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. PT.

Click to read at the Grand Slam of Curling website

Comments are closed.