Crazy comebacks & stunning shots: Canadian curling had a wild 2018-19 season
Canadians fall short in pursuit of men's, women's, and mixed doubles world titles
A granite odyssey that began in the heat of August, stretched through the cold, dark winter months and continued on as spring flowers bloomed, has finally ended.
The curling season is longer than ever and this year's version provided months of rock-throwing highlights that included some crazy comebacks, historic firsts and stunning shots.
What is abundantly clear now that we've reached the end of this season, however, is that the phrase "the curling world catching up to Canada" has to be shelved before the start of the next.
The world has caught up and curling is no longer Canada's game to dominate. It's certainly no time to panic but there is mounting pressure in the curling-crazed nation to up its game during this current Olympic cycle.
As we put away the rocks and brooms and melt down the pebbled ice for some brief summer respite, let's look back on some of the best moments from this past curling season.
Resilient Rachel Homan
The immense disappointment of the 2018 Olympics left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth of Rachel Homan's Ottawa rink after failing to make the playoffs in Pyeongchang. But the foursome didn't dwell on the past and put together a remarkable first half the curling season.
WATCH | Rachel Homan clinches 10th Grand Slam title:
They opened with a gold-medal performance at the newly created Curling World Cup event last August. From there, they kept the good times rolling by winning three consecutive Grand Slams – Homan has now captured 10 Slams, surpassing Jennifer Jones, who has nine, for most all-time.
Chelsea Carey's comeback
In what was the biggest comeback in Scotties history, Alberta skip Chelsea Carey was down 5-2 midway through the Scotties final before stealing her way back to upset Homan in the championship game.
Carey just kept fighting back throughout the game despite being down throughout most of the contest.
WATCH | Carey rallies past Homan for Scotties title:
But four stolen ends down the stretch, including in the 10th end and the extra end after two missed draws by Homan gave Carey her second-career Scotties title.
The Sydney, N.S., crowd was just as stunned at the conclusion of the game as every player on the ice – Rachel Brown's broom flip followed by a barrage of celebratory expletives won't soon be forgotten.
Kevin Koe's magic
Where do you even begin when starting to document the curling season Kevin Koe had? After making sweeping changes to his lineup to start this season, the Alberta skip was unsure how his new team would gel.
He got his answer in a hurry.
The team won their first-ever event together at the inaugural Curling World Cup event and never looked back. They then captured an Alberta provincial title by reeling off five-straight wins to secure their berth at the Brier.
Then the Brier happened. Koe was sensational and guided his team to an undefeated championship title.
WATCH | Koe's rink takes Brier title in 10th end:
It marked only the fifth time since the playoff format was introduced that a team has gone undefeated to win the title. The skipper made a handful of last-second, heart-wrenching shots to secure victory for his side – the shot to win the Brier against Brendan Bottcher with the clock ticking down will go down as one of the greatest under that type of pressure.
Koe is only the fourth-ever skip to win four Brier titles.
But Koe's sharpshooting exploits didn't end at the Brier. He put on a curling clinic the entire week in Lethbridge, Alta., at the men's world curling championship and two shots in particular will be played over and over again on highlight reels for years to come.
WATCH | Koe makes an amazing shot against the U.S.:
The first came against the Americans in a must-win game for Koe. It was a defensive battle with high pressure. That's when Koe decided to take the game into his own hands.
Knowing he needed to score two points, Koe played an in-off on an American rock about as far away from the button as possible – his rock came about a foot away from the bumper as it hit the American stone on the edge of the 12-foot, ricocheted across the house and removed the U.S. stone from the button.
WATCH | Koe escapes trouble with quadruple takeout:
His other trick came against the Swiss in the semifinals. With the Canadians in serious trouble early in the game, Koe settled in the house looking at four Switzerland stones. In all likelihood, Koe would have been happy to remove three of them – but he launched a missile of a shot and removed all four rocks out of the house. The crowd roared and roared as the calm and collected Koe made his way down the ice.
Brendan Bottcher's breakthough
Alberta skip Brendan Bottcher has been on the peripheral of curling greatness for the last number of seasons. A Brier championship game loss to Brad Gushue in 2018 only fuelled the young skip's resolve to get back and he did – only to lose the championship game again, this time to Koe. He's been close. And is getting closer to being the best in Canada.
Undeterred, Bottcher etched his way into the top echelon of curling by winning three consecutive Slams in the second half the curling season, including the Champions Cup to cap off the year. The team from Edmonton is going to be competitive for years to come and it's seemingly only a matter of time before they capture their first Brier title.
WATCH | Brendan Bottcher claims 1st Players' Championship:
Many of those Slam championship games were played against provincial foe Kevin Koe. This will be a granite battle to watch with great interest in the years to come.
Nigeria wins 1st-ever curling game
This year's mixed doubles world curling championship in Stavanger, Norway, featured 48 teams, the largest field ever for a curling event. It opened up the door for countries to make their debuts at an international bonspiel – Mexico, Kosovo, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria all hit the ice for the first-time ever.
For the Nigerian duo of Tijani and Susana Cole, being at the event was a dream come true. The husband and wife live together in Denver where they started curling for the first time three years ago. Tijani grew up imagining walking into an opening ceremony at a sporting event waving his country's flag. He did exactly that to begin the championship in Norway.
WATCH | Nigeria scores historic victory:
Then, in their last game at the event, after losing every game at the tournament, Tijani and Susana made history. The two defeated France 8-5 to capture the first curling win for an African nation. Their celebration told the story of just how much it meant to them, as they jumped and screamed and hugged at the conclusion of the game.
Canada's junior curlers had impressive seasons. Tyler Tardi made history by capturing his third consecutive national title before adding the world junior title to his credit. Alberta's Selena Sturmay went undefeated to win the junior Canadian title and captured silver at worlds.
Canada's two senior teams swept the podium at the world championships in Norway. Saskatchewan's Sherry Anderson went back-to-back after thumping Denmark in the championship game. Bryan Cochrane of Ontario made an incredible run back in an extra end against Scotland to claim gold for the Canadian men.
It's not all that common that Canadians don;t hold a men's or women's world curling title but that's the exact situation the country is in now. Carey failed to make the playoffs at this year's worlds and Koe lost the gold medal game to Nik Edin.
The Swiss women and Swedish men are the keepers of the world titles this season. Canada, over to you to raise your granite game.