Curling's best look to finish Grand Slam season with a flourish
Players' Championship begins Tuesday in Toronto
National women's curling champion Rachel Homan can wrap up her breakout season in style this week at The Players' Championship.
She can complete a sweep of the Grand Slam of Curling events with a victory at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Homan is one of the headliners in a deep 15-team women's field. The strong men's draw also boasts 15 teams, including world champion Niklas Edin of Sweden and Tim Hortons Brier champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Homan's rink has been dominant this season.
The Ottawa skip owns top spot on the Canadian Team Ranking System list. She won her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts title in Kingston, Ont., a couple months ago and then added a bronze medal in her world women's championship debut in Riga, Latvia.
Lisa Weagle, who plays lead for Homan's team, said the rink is hoping to build off its recent success.
"I think any kind of world experience is good for our team," Weagle said in a recent interview. "What it has really shown to us is that we can compete with the best teams in the world.
"It was a confidence booster for sure."
A combined event purse of $200,000 is on the line at this week's bonspiel. An additional Grand Slam combined bonus of $200,000 will also be awarded.
Canadian teams are also fighting for berths in the Olympic trials and pre-trial competition. The CTRS standings — used to determine qualification into both events — will be finalized after the The Players' Championship.
Toronto's John Epping upset 2012 world champion Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., in last year's TPC final. Epping, the lowest-seeded skip in the men's draw last year, hit the button with his final throw for a 7-6 win.
Howard said the success of young skips like Epping shows how strong the sport is right now.
"You're as good as your competition," he said. "So you play the better teams, you get better. The knowledge out there today is better, the kids are learning it faster than I think I did at their age.
"It's almost through osmosis. You almost just get better because you're playing against better competition."
Epping knows that the opposition might be gunning for him as the defending champion.
"It's going to be very difficult to defend the title," he said. "But I think there are some bigger targets on other people's backs too. The recent silver medallists from the worlds are there, the world champions are there."
Alberta's Kevin Martin, Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton and 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador are also in the field.
Alberta's Heather Nedohin, Scotland's Eve Muirhead and Switzerland's Mirjam Ott are expected to contend in women's play. Muirhead won the women's world title last month while Ott is the 2012 world champion.
Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton defeated Winnipeg's Cathy Overton-Clapham 7-3 in the 2012 TPC final in Summerside, P.E.I.
Round-robin play begins Tuesday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre — formerly Maple Leaf Gardens — and continues through Friday. The playoff games are set for Saturday and the finals are scheduled for Sunday.
Martin, Howard and Stoughton have already locked up spots in the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings this December in Winnipeg. Jennifer Jones of Manitoba, Nedohin and Lawton have secured direct entry into the women's draw. The pre-trials competition will be held in November in Kitchener, Ont.