Players' Championship highlights curling greatness
Top performers gather in Toronto for 2nd-last stop on Grand Slam circuit
TORONTO — Yes, the curling season is still going.
In fact, Olympic champion, world champion and Canadian champion curlers have all congregated in downtown Toronto this week for the 26th Players' Championship. It's the second-last stop on this year's Grand Slam of Curling.
There's a lot of money on the line too — the $300,000 purse makes it the biggest of the season. The top-12 men's and women's teams according to the World Curling Tour rankings are playing at the prestigious event.
CBC Sports is broadcasting the women's quarter-finals on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET) and the men's final Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET).
Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba team seem unstoppable at this point. Friday afternoon the team secured their 25th consecutive win dating back to the Scotties after defeating Korea's Team Kim.
"Oh I didn't even think about that many wins," Jones said, surprised. "We've been playing really well. It's probably been the best year we've ever had. We're just having fun."
In March, Jones captured the world title in North Bay, Ont. by defeating Anna Hasselborg of Sweden. They went undefeated during that championship. The only blemish on the season was a semifinal loss in the Olympic trials.
"Right after we lost the semi we sat in the change room and said let's go win the worlds," Jones said. "That was pretty much our meeting. One line."
They haven't looked back and are poised for a playoff push this weekend. They've also locked up the $75,000 payout for winning the Bonus Cup on the tour.
Olympic losses still sting
Kevin Koe and his rink are trying to forget about what happened during the Olympics in February. The team lost the bronze medal game to Switzerland in Pyeongchang.
"What can you say?" Koe said. "Part of us will probably never get over that performance. But you learn to live with it and move on. We've lost a lot of tough games before but obviously those were the worst."
Koe and company currently lead the Pool B men's standings, winning their first four games of the Players' Championship.
"You can't throw a pity party for yourself and we want to finish strong," Koe said. "We really want to end off with a win in one of these last two events."
This is the second-last event for this current iteration of the Koe team. Marc Kennedy is stepping away from the game, Brent Laing has joined John Epping.
"It's bittersweet," Koe said. "We've had a great run. Look at the last four years. Won a Brier. Lost one by a foot. Won a worlds. Won the trials."
Rachel Homan is also on the ice with her team this week in Toronto. The team failed to make the playoffs at the Olympics. They've lost their first four games of the Players' Championship.
Too much curling?
At this point of the season teams are exhausted — compounded by the fact that it was an Olympic year.
"After the Olympics, I haven't thrown enough rocks to do this event justice," John Shuster said. "I'm playing third this week. I haven't liked 50 per cent of the rocks out of my hand."
Shuster and his team have been on a month-and-a-half long curling celebration tour after winning their country's first Olympic gold medal. They've spent more time in hotels and airplanes than anywhere else. A long curling season has definitely gotten longer for the U.S. team — they're rockstars in Canada this week.
"I've taken a lot of photos and people want to say congratulations," Shuster said. "This event is one of the best events on tour."
Canadian skip Jones says while the season continues to get longer, she's glad to see the game grow.
"We're still amateur athletes chasing the dream of wearing the maple leaf on our back. We can't just live off curling but it's evolving and changing. There are more events. We get to play in front of crowds. I'm glad to part of all of this," she said.
Gushue reflects on world championship silver
Brad Gushue and his team out St. John's flew directly from Las Vegas to Toronto. Last Sunday night the team lost the world championship final to Sweden's Niklas Edin, who is also competing in Toronto.
Gushue says he's mentally exhausted at this point of the season but is reflecting on what happened in Vegas.
"I'll look back on this experience later on in my career and be really proud of it," he said.
"I'm just proud of the team. We all are. When we went out Sunday night after the loss it wasn't like we had just lost a world championship. We fought hard all week."
Gushue points to the way Brett Gallant and Mark Nichols handled themselves after losing family members just prior to the event. Gallant's grandfather and Nichols' mother died within three days of one another.
Now the team is competing in Toronto and sitting with a 3-1 record, looking to punch their ticket into the playoffs.
"Every year outside of the Brier this is the event everyone would want to win," Gushue said."The money is a big part of it."